The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interviews:
Angus Clark - Winter Tour 2015 - Dec 18, 2015
Interview by Brad Parmerter
Since 2001, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra west touring group's twin guitar attack has been deftly handled by Musical Director Al Pitrelli and Angus Clark. A seasoned world-wide touring musician, Clark brought an energy and ease of playing to the stage that counter-balanced the more reserved and focused Pitrelli. The combination of their talents raised the bar and have thrilled millions of concert-goers through their playing.
For the other nine months of the year, Angus is focused on his work as General Manager of Song Division, a company that incorporates songwriting with team building; video guitar lessons through TrueFire.com; and his own band, Daredevil Squadron, with fellow TSO member Andrew Ross.
I caught up with Angus during the 2015 winter tour to discuss in-depth his musical roots, early guitar inspirations, first bands and tours, which member of Megadeth helped him land the gig with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the early days of TSO, his guitar and gear rundown, TSO at Wacken, Song Division, the status of the new Daredevil Squadron album, and much more!Bp:
Where did the spark of musical inspiration come from for you when you were young?Angus Clark:
Well, the first pop music that attracted me were the rock albums my folks had. They had three because the rest were all classical albums. They had The Beatles' Revolver
and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
and The Rolling Stones' Beggar's Banquet
. I favored The Beatles albums over the Stones, although Beggar's Banquet
has "Sympathy for the Devil" on it, which is still one of my favorite songs.Bp:
For only having three, that's a pretty good set.Angus Clark:
Yeah. It was a nice arrangement. My Mom is a singer, she's a soprano with a background in opera. Her forte was German song-form stuff, more chamber music because she had a light voice. Not suited so much for the big opera stuff. My Dad played the cello – he's a lawyer, but he played the cello. They had met through participating in musical chorale singing, so there was always a lot of music in the house, mostly classical. So I had to find my way into the rock and roll stuff. I had a couple of tries at piano lessons and violin lessons, and cello lessons and none of it really took. I asked them for a guitar and they got me a classical guitar and I took a few lessons, so I'm technically classically trained at that point. But that guitar wound up back in the closet and it didn't come back out of the closet until [Pink Floyd's] The Wall
came out and that album pretty much made me want to participate in being a musician and making people feel awesome about listening to music. So that was pretty much it when The Wall
At that point I was listening to Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix was a huge influence on me and Black Sabbath. Those were my early inspirations.
Orlando, FL - December 14, 2014 (Photo by Stacey Porter)Bp:
Hendrix, Gilmour and Iommi are some stellar guitar players to be inspired by at a young age.Angus Clark:
In retrospect, if you listen to The Wall
, not only is it an amazing album compositionally and lyrically and musically, but it's also an album of great guitar solos. Every single one of them is an amazing feat in and of itself. For me, very often it all comes back to The Wall
in some way shape or form.Bp:
Were you able to see Roger Waters' presentation a few years ago?Angus Clark:
Yes, I saw it twice at Yankee Stadium. It was totally amazing.Bp:
So The Wall
inspired you to bring the guitar back out of the closet, how did that evolve into wanting to pursue music as a career?Angus Clark:
When I bought The Wall
I was an eighth grader at the Cathedral School in New York and I was in the choir at the Cathedral at St. John's the Divine, one of the biggest cathedrals in the world, so there's this grandiose stuff involved in my exposure to classical music and church music and stuff like that. I was taking lessons and my teacher took me all the way through the Mel Bay grades from one through seven. I think Brian Setzer learned the same way, so I feel great kinship with Brian Setzer in that way. In New York I went to a high school called Bronx High School of Science and from there I went to the University of Southern California. They have a great studio guitar program and I studied with guys who did session work for TV soundtracks and stuff like that. We'd play charts from Hill Street Blues and all these kinds of shows and things. So reading and classical instruction was all part of it, but at that point I was in LA in '85 so all I was listening to was Yngwie Malmsteen and Racer X and I was getting my chops together. When I got done with college I went back to New York because I wasn't really feeling it in LA. I don't enjoy driving that much. So I went back to New York and enrolled in a master's program at NYU where I studied with some guys who were out of the Charlie Banacos school from the Berklee College of Music – that's the school how Mike Stern plays guitar with the study of approach notes and stuff. So I'm gathering all these different styles of instruction and formal training, but at the same time all I want to do is put on Mob Rules
and listen to Ronnie James Dio sing.
In about '92 I finally met some guys who were doing a prog rock band called Naked Sun and that was like Van der Graaf Generator meets Black Sabbath kind of a thing – that might be an obscure reference for your readers, but [laughs]Bp:
Nothing like a little German prog.Angus Clark:
Van der Graaf were British actually. That's Peter Hammill - have you ever listened to Marillion?Bp:
They're one of my favorite bands with Rush and TSO.Angus Clark:
Ahh, well Fish's lyrical approach is very Peter Hammill. If you listen to early Van der Graaf you'll hear where – everyone likes to liken the Marillion thing to Genesis which I think sonically it is, but the lyrics are deeper like a dark Pink Floyd type of thing. But if you were to listen to some Van der Graaf you'd hear where Fish is coming from on that Marillion stuff. It's really interesting, I encourage you to check out anything by Van der Graff Generator or Peter Hammill. It's really like artsy prog, not technical prog.Bp:
I've heard people make that connection before, but for some reason I thought they were German. Back to Naked Sun.Angus Clark:
So there we are in '92 and we're wearing bell bottoms and Van Dyke beards with long hair and we're totally out of step with everything as Nirvana are about to crush the hair bands into oblivion. I spent two years in that band and we made a record and we were playing some showcases in LA. That's where I met a woman who worked with Kitaro's management. Kitaro is a new age artist very influenced by Tangerine Dream – and those guys are German.Bp:
That's right. Edgar Froese was German.Angus Clark:
It was going to get in there somewhere. So Kitaro was more of an electronic musician using vintage synthesizers surrounding himself with a rock combo. But at this point he wanted specifically to be making music in the style of Pink Floyd with no singer. He was embracing a slightly jammy-ier live show than he had been doing previously. He had just done a tour with Jon Anderson of Yes and it was very classically structured – it was like soundtrack music with no movie. And he wanted to do something a bit more free form. So he told his manager he wanted someone who played like David Gilmour.
Naked Sun had played at The Whisky and there were about ten people there and she was one of them. Either that day or the next day Kitaro's manager had said he wanted someone who played like David Gilmour so at this point I was playing a Strat and had long straight brown hair and completely doing my David Gilmour thing. And two days later and I go out to see a friend's band play at Rogie's, which no longer exists because this was 1994 and the big earthquake had just happened so all these buildings were red flagged and everything, so I go to Rogie's to see this band play and this woman, Penny, walks in and she starts a conversation with me. I don't know where it's going, but then I said something and she said, "Oh, you must not be from here." And I said, "No, I'm from New York, we just got done playing." She said, "Did you play The Whisky two nights ago?" I said, "Yea." She said, "I saw you guys. You guys were great. I work for Kitaro and he's looking for someone to play like David Gilmour. Do you know Kitaro?" I had no idea who he was, I think I had him confused with somebody in my head at that point and I said, "Yes! Totally!" After that conversation I researched it and had a listen and I thought it was just like Pink Floyd without singing, very Meddle
-era Pink Floyd. So I sent them a tape and I got the gig from that.
Naked Sun was completely out of step with what was going on at the time so it was appropriate that the band would break up, personalities and everything. It had to happen. I think I was the catalyst that broke it up because I said I was going to do the Kitaro tour. That's the first thing I did that shifted me from being a band guy to being a professional touring musician, I morphed my skillset to what the artist was looking for.
Long answer, sorry.
Kitaro: "Kokoro" (live 1995) - Chant From The Heart from An Enchanted Evening DVD
And that gave you experience playing all over the world.Angus Clark:
Yea, that was my first international traveling experience in my life. The first leg was six weeks in Japan and it was amazing. Complete culture shock. We did these cool outdoor shows with pyramid shaped lighting structures and mirror balls and fireworks. It was an intense and big production. It was really cool. We then did six weeks in the States including Radio City Music Hall and then we did similar trips the second year in '95. Then there was more international stuff in Europe and South America, Southeast Asia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, we actually went to Guangdong, China, and Hong Kong. Then it actually started to taper off around '97-'98. I got called by a baby band on an A&M imprint called Drill. They were a female fronted metal band and I did about six or eight months of touring with them which was interesting because it was a whole other world from the Kitaro scene. The bass player in that band was JD from Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society, so JD and I did six months together. Apparently John O'Reilly [TSO west drummer] played on all the demos for Drills' first record, so it was like a six-degrees of separation thing.
Then I went back and did the last junket for Kitaro and we did a holiday thing. He'd made a Christmas album so we toured over the holidays and we were playing an instrumental version of "O Holy Night" and other stuff. Then the Kitaro thing ended for me and I was thinking about an original band for a couple of years and then in 2001 I started with TSO.
At that time TSO was playing some of the same theaters that I had done with Kitaro. We were doing one-to-two thousand seats so we'd be heading to Madison, Wisconsin to do the same place I'd played three years before with Kitaro.Bp:
How did the introduction to TSO come about?Angus Clark:
That's a good one. In addition to my performing career I'd done a certain amount of teaching like most professional musicians so I'd done a couple of stints at a now defunct guitar camp in Connecticut called the National Guitar Workshop. A lot of people have been through the doors of that joint. You'll continue to meet guitar players that have either taught or gone there. I was teaching up there and they were trying to bolster enrollment by having people who had magazine covers show up and do clinics and they had Zakk Wydle come – which is a pretty funny story, but inappropriate [laughs] – they also had Marty Friedman come and I was a big fan of Marty's. I had the Dragon's Kiss album and the Cacophony album and I had been to see them when I was in college. I saw Cacophony at the NAMM show at the Hurricane Guitars booth and I was a big fan of Marty's.
The faculty would jam with the guest artists and he and I played [Jimi Hendrix's] "Little Wing" there. People think of Marty as a shredder, Marty sort of defers himself from that, he might have come from a technical school and have some of that facility, but he thinks of himself as – and rightly so, he's a very melodic player and thinks of himself as doing what's right for the melody and what's best for the songs emotional impact. So it was neat that we played "Little Wing" because that's in my wheelhouse in terms of my approach to guitar playing, instead of trying to shred-off with him.
There were other guys on that day who had went for it, who were playing crazy scales with him and stuff like that, but he was really complimentary to me. He was like, "That was great!" I was flattered and thought that was neat. So the next time I saw Marty – the other side to this is that Marty, when he got the Megadeth gig, he still owed one album to Shrapnel or whatever, he still had a solo album to deliver as an obligation and he went for it. Essentially he wanted Kitaro to produce his album because he was a huge Kitaro fan. So the album, Scenes
, was produced by Kitaro. They worked together on the whole record.
So the next time I see Marty is backstage at the Universal Amphitheater in LA and I said, "Hey, you might not remember, we met at this guitar camp a couple years ago." He said, "Yea, man, we played 'Little Wing,' I remember." I was like, "Wow." [laughing] So then we kept in touch and if Megadeth was in New York I'd go see him and we'd hang out and I'd get to see him. He was living in Phoenix, all the Megadeth guys were living in Phoenix at the time, so I went and saw him in the studio when I was touring through there and it was a nice friendship built on mutual respect and I just saw him at NAMM last year – anyway, to finish the story, fast forward to the 1999 tour, the first TSO tour it was Pitrelli and Caffery when it was one band, then on the 2000 tour it broke into two bands and the east band was Skolnick and Caffery and the west coast was Damon LaScott and George Cintron. Pitrelli wasn't there because he was in Megadeth. So coming into 2001 the lineup that went west in 2000, most of the band members did not come back in '01. Middleton didn't come back in '01 just for his own reasons, right?Bp:
So coming into '01 they were looking at pretty much a whole new band for the west coast and they lost Al to Megadeth at that point so they called Marty 'cause they wanted to know what he was doing. They probably had a similar skill set, "He can handle the gig, he's a full blown rock star, so let's get him." When Marty left Megadeth he moved to Japan, so he's living in Japan becoming a TV star. I don't know if you've seen the footage, but he's a full blown TV talk show host in Japan as well as a very successful musician. So they called Marty and asked him if he'd be interested and he said, "I can't, but I know a guy in New York."
He gave them my number and TSO management called me up and I went down. It was funny because I think it was the year before I was walking by the Beacon [Theater in NYC] and I'd seen the TV show and I thought, "This is probably the kind of gig that I'm going to probably wind up doing." I just had this notion that I was going to wind up there.
So I went down and had a first audition and felt pretty good about it. Then the second audition I pretty much just had to sit there with Paul and play "Old City Bar" for him. It was pretty nerve-wracking, but it went well. So there you go.Bp:
Do you remember what you played for the first audition?Angus Clark:
"A Last Illusion," "O Come/O Holy Night," and "12/24." I was playing it on a Strat and I had no idea that Paul hates Strats at that point. He said, "Will you play a Jackson?" I said, "Which answer will get me the gig?"Bp:
[laughing] What can you tell me about that first tour with TSO?Angus Clark:
Well, we rehearsed at SIR in New York and then we got out on the road – I don't know what there is to say, we were all brand new with each other. We weren't green at all, everybody had toured on a professional level at some point. It was fun. It was the original show, all the shows have been great, but the original show, obviously we toured it for ten plus years – it's a great show. It's always been a really well run organization. Paul always puts together a good team. We had Valerie Vigoda playing the violin. We were just building a relationship on that tour. From that tour, Me, Al and Jane are the only ones still left from that tour on the current west coast band.Bp:
Johnny came back for the 2002 tour.Angus Clark:
Yea, and that's when O'Reilly joined. Except for a couple years when Johnny went to the east coast band, it's been pretty stable. It's a band. There's no other way to describe it. As I said, Paul puts together an amazing group both onstage and in the crew. It's only gotten better over the years.Bp:
Do you have a preference between the more intimate theater shows vs. the full-blown arena shows?Angus Clark:
You've got to count your lucky stars when you're walking onto an arena stage these days. It's amazing. That opportunity is so rare and to be able to do it – if you can't have a good time doing this then there's definitely something, you've got some issues you need to sort through. It's amazing. How many people get to do this at this level, not only this level, but to the degree of this level that Paul has dictated – this many lifts and pyro cues and lasers. Then there's certain elements when I get to run around the crowd and I'm joining selfies with people and high-fiving kids and there's so much of it that you get your personal jollies out of it, if you will, in the midst of this huge endeavor. Just to build that stage every day there are 75-80 guys and girls that show up at that building at 8 o'clock in the morning and put that stage together so I can run around on it and act like a kid, c'mon, I wouldn't have it any other way.
I think everybody that's in this at this point knows what they enjoy about a more intimate setting, but they also know that the choice of the music you play in a more intimate setting is going to be different. TSO music deserves this level of production. I don't know from a business perspective how it all works, but I know that we pushed into arenas in order to have the fireworks and the lasers and the smoke the way Paul wanted it before we were selling all those seats in those arenas. Because he had to get the look and feel of what this thing was supposed to look like out there. So we would play some relatively scaled down houses, but we'd have the full stage and the moving elements and the smoke and the pyro and everything and then the pictures started to come out and YouTube started to take off and people said, "This is an amazing thing to go see."
Then we started filling up the arenas. I think one of the first arenas the west coast band scaled full was the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. I remember that day, me and Pitrelli were looking at the seating filling up and we said, "Man, look at that. That's amazing."Bp:
Can you give me a rundown of your arsenal of guitars you've got out with you on this tour?Angus Clark:
I've got two Gibson Flying-V's and they both have the stock pickup in the neck and a Duncan distortion in the bridge. They're both strung with D'Addario strings, 11 to 49. One is white and one is red. The white one is a 2013 and the red is a 2005. I've got a white Gibson custom shop Les Paul SG, y'know the '61 Les Paul which is when they made the Les Paul with the SG body. I have my red SG with me but that's not in the show right now. I have a Jackson Adrian Smith model which I replaced the pickups and pickguard. I put a regular Strat pickguard on it so I could do my regular Strat stuff on it. That's a great guitar. I have a custom shop ESP that we're using on a couple of things, it's got an M2 body shape and then that's it, that's what's in the show. There's also a Tele Deluxe that I used the last few years, but we just couldn't find a spot for it in the show this year.Bp:
What's in your rig as far as effects and what amps are you using?Angus Clark:
I had been using EVH 5150 Mark III, but three or four years ago we switched over to Axe FX, so it's an Axe FX based rig. I would be using the Dunlop rack mounted Cry Baby, except that I think the only thing I was using that on was "Toccata-Carpimus Noctem" so since that's not in the set it's all just the Axe FX at this point.Bp:
The last time I talked to Al he was still using monitors. Is that still the case or is everyone using in-ears now?Angus Clark:
Well, we have some wedges on the stage, but we're all using in-ears. There are just enough wedges out there so you can get some resonant feedback when you need it. My wedge has just my guitar and some kick-snare-hat in it. Every now and then you pull an in-ear out so you can hear the crowd or every now and then there's a problem and your in-ears aren't working quite right and it's just good to know that there's something available on the stage. I don't know what all is in Al's wedge. I know his wedge is not as loud as it used to be other years because he's using the in-ears.Bp:
What's a favorite solo in this year's show and then from all the TSO tours that you've done?Angus Clark:
I liked it when I had "Siberian Sleigh Ride." That was fun because I had to do it when I was running around the room. I think part of my ethic in terms of performance is to make most things, where possible, look easy. I know some guitar players approach it differently where they want you to see how hard they're working on what is prepared for you, but I think it's more fun for the audience to see you having fun doing it. If they want to be technically impressed, that's okay too, but it's more fun to see the performer having a good time doing their thing rather than working hard at doing their thing. So I liked doing "Siberian Sleigh Ride" while running around because I thought it was cool to try to play in tune and in time while you're running.
"The Mountain" Tampa, FL - December 13, 2014 - multi-cam mix edited by Frank Anzalone
Right now, I love doing "The Mountain." I did it on the record so I like doing it live and it's such a big set piece. I think I'd been doing it live based more on the Criss Oliva version of it from "Prelude to Madness" and that's what clinched me getting to do it in the studio, but when I went into the studio they were very – they wanted me to use this Les Paul for it, which I did, and I own one now, but I didn't own a Les Paul then, so it was kind of a foreign animal for me. A lot of what I was doing live was whammy bar based, Hendrix inspired and things like that, so what's on the album version is very different to how it's being presented live now because I'm back to using a Floyd Rose equipped Strat-style guitar. I like doing that live because it's a lot of fun.
I like the ones Pitrelli and I get to do in harmony, those bits are always good fun. Anytime we get to do that. There ain't a bad bit of the show as far as I'm concerned.Bp:
Are there any particular parts of the show that you enjoy seeing an audience reaction to whether it's something that you've played or something else?Angus Clark:
I don't know how much of a reaction we're getting for it, but some of us more than others, I probably watch videos more than any of the other guys in the west coast band – there's a metal legacy to what this thing is. So for lack of anything better to do you can do a synchronized guitar neck move or synchronized head bang or something like that. But you worry about those things because you worry that – it's one thing to be evoking vintage Judas Priest or Scorpions, but it's another thing to evoking Rough Cutt or Trixter, no offense to those guys.Bp:
I know what you're saying.Angus Clark:
So you don't know how it's going to be taken in the context of what we do. We used to completely eschew all those synchronized motions and head banging moments except right at the end this year, in the 5th Symphony when we get to the last time [sings the part] I go over to Johnny and we do it four times, completely locked. 'Cause if you don't do it completely locked then you shouldn't do it at all. So we just give it to them, the last tune, synchronized headbang and we're out. To me, that's a personal triumph. I don't know if the audience is picking up on it, but we have fun with it.Bp:
I believe the east coast band partakes in that a bit more than you guys on the west do. And I get that there's a difference between the Priest and Maiden line-ups compared to the '80s style.Angus Clark:
'Cause I love Priest and Maiden, c'mon. But there's so much of it out there now…I was subbing for Joel [Hoekstra] on Rock of Ages and the Broadway gang would be like, "Rock fingers everybody." And I'm thinking, "What are they talking about?" They're talking about Dio throwing the horns and they're calling them rock fingers. I'm like, "Oh, no! The Broadway world has a word for throwing the horns and it's called rock fingers?" I was mortified.Bp:
Poor Ronnie.Angus Clark:
I know. Ronnie was such an influence on me, everything that guy brought to the table. So that thing is a little more sacred to me than to other people who came later to the game, shall we say.
"Night Conceives" - July 30, 2015 Wacken, Germany - courtesy Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Can you walk me through the preparation for Wacken?Angus Clark:
That was awesome. It was awesome because I love working with Jeff Plate and Dave Z and all those guys and I finally got to play in a band with them so that was a real treat. It was different in that way. The amount of pre-production work that went into that was intense. You've got to give it up to Pitrelli and Paul and Bryan Hartley and Jon Oliva, all those guys. What they did in terms of orchestrating how we could get the two stages to play completely in sync was just amazing. It involved sending a click signal to both sides, but it had to be cued precisely so that things would always happen without being able to see each other, without being able to visually cue each other or sometimes hear what was going on. Everybody had to start and stop on a dime. They created all this programming just to get us locked up with each other and it's very new for us because we don't run any tracks. We're different from others who tour at the arena level because we don't have any tracks what-so-ever, so why would we need to run a click off a computer. So this was our first time getting into that. It's part of the big production touring game, but we've just never had a call for it. So it was new for a lot of people.Bp:
You've used time code for the instrumentals before to stay in time with the lighting effects.Angus Clark:
We don't get the time code in our ears 'cause that'd be like listening to [makes high pitched sound] – that'd be awful. You're right though, there are things when there's a synthy-click, but they didn't do it to a level that this was done. There's some subtleties to doing it well so everybody can play to it without, how shall we say – I can only really hear the click when we get off it. If we didn't have it programmed right so everyone was comfortable with it, you'd have to have it way loud and it'd be awful. I'd be standing there smiling acting like I'm having a great time and feeling like there was an ice pick in my ear going 'ping ping ping.' They really did the work to make sure it was something everyone could get comfortable with. That was the important thing about it so that we're still having fun doing the show. And we're still playing like a band.
The other thing that was interesting about playing at Wacken was we went to the fairgrounds in Tampa and they just taped the stages out onto the floor, 'don't go here' and 'don't go there,' 'this is how much room you'll have.' And we had to pretend we were standing in front of 80,000 people. And then we get there and it's basically what you prepared to do, it's just for real, so that's just weird. And then it's raining – but everything really worked. I don't know from a technical perspective of anything that didn't go off as planned, we all felt really comfortable that we were nailing it as a band and it was fun playing with Dave and Jeff. There were some funny moments where – it was "Toccata" and I'm playing this one thing and Jeff is playing something and I said, "Can we make this triplets, 'cause I'm playing triplets. " He just looks at me says, "You are?" I said, "I think I'm playing the album version." And he said, "I think I'm playing the album version." So we had to go back to the videotape to figure out who was right. You find out where the little things – and I think these are things that your average audience member would not even notice anything different about the show. The two shows for each show, the east coast and the west coast, both are amazing and excellent and for the most part we are playing the same show. But these little things that maybe I or someone else in the band or someone who has been listening to it for twenty years would know or pick up on. It was nice to come together and get as a team, the largest team effort that TSO and Paul has ever put out there. It's important that we accomplished it all together as a team, that's really cool.Bp:
Were you guys actually getting hit by the rain while onstage?Angus Clark:
Yea. It was blowing in because the canopy only goes out so far so it was blowing in and dousing some pyro cues and stuff like that. Not many.Bp:
That's got to add an element of excitement to the already high energy situation.Angus Clark:
Yea, for sure. It was crazy and awesome.Bp:
Were you any more nervous before heading out onstage because it was a giant undertaking with so many new songs or because you'd rehearsed so much were you comfortable?Angus Clark:
If you didn't get a little nervous every time you went on stage you should probably stop playing live. There's a certain amount of nervousness, but the weirdest thing was that the crowd was thirty yards away from you. There's a huge pit between you and the first row of the crowd. And it was dark out so you could only see the first fifty yards of people.
It was awesome though. There were moments, especially when we were playing Savatage material where they started doing all those great things that European festival crowds do, that was just priceless. That was a golden memory.Bp:
Speaking of the inter-mingling of the bands, when you're in Omaha do you watch the east coast's full dress rehearsal before they head out for their first show?Angus Clark:
Yeah, it's awesome. 'Cause you get to see different ways of using the stage and there's a lot of opportunity to hear what the subtle differences are as I was talking about before and also when things are the same you get a notion of what we can accomplish when we're on the stage, "Oh, this is lit like that so maybe if we do this or that it might be effective." It's great, a nice learning experience.
I actually went and played "Christmas Canon" with the east coast band during rehearsal. Again there are some subtle differences between the east coast band and the west coast band when we play that tune.Bp:
What was the reason for playing it with them?Angus Clark:
I don't remember, 'cause Bill Hudson was just nailing it over there. He wasn't available or wasn't there at that point in time, and they needed to run "Christmas Canon" so they asked me to come play Bill's part. But I had to have a two-minute conversation and I said, "Is it the same number of bars?" They said, "Yeah, it's all the same number of bars." So I said, "What's different?" "Well, that stop that you guys do, that doesn't happen. Then out of this part you do the tapping part and then go back into the melody." Then they harmonize the main theme slightly differently, but I know both parts so I was like, "Ok, got it." Then it was "1, 2, 3, 4, go." And we nailed it. I was like, "Wow, that's awesome!" [laughs] It was like subbing for Bill. It was fun.
"Good King Joy" Chicago, IL - December 28, 2015 - video captured by The 2 Z Girlz
Let me run through a couple quick ones here. What do you do to keep healthy and stay in shape?Angus Clark:
Well, during rehearsal I signed on to the Dave Z school of fitness, which is mostly based on the Insanity videotapes so I have those with me. I have a routine that involves some of that and some weightlifting. After Johnny Lee showed up to rehearsal one day and took his jacket off and Paul said, "I want the look without the jacket and the cut-off sleeves, that's great!" And I was like, "Oh man." So I spent a whole year in the gym so I could pull it off next time he showed up.
We have a really good team of caterer's that we have with us. They have all the healthy choices. They also have the more caloric choices, but you just try to make some good choices at meal times and you try to monitor – the meal times are also an issue. You have to figure out when to eat around the show and avoid eating late. Same thing anybody does to try to stay healthy.Bp:
What do you do to warm up before showtime?Angus Clark:
Am I supposed to be doing that?Bp:
[laughs] I don't know, do you have a routine to loosen up the fingers?Angus Clark:
Well, we get dressed and then we make fun of each other for twenty minutes and then I stand at side stage and talk to my tech and I think I probably play some scales while I'm talking to my tech, so probably – just to make sure that – 'cause I wear the guitar at performance height, "If you can see your belt buckle it better be because your guitar is below it." So you just have to get used to it and the angle you hold the pick to pick stuff clean. I have a guitar on the bus that's really for days off if I'm working on something for January or stuff like that. But I don't have a guitar in the dressing room. We get to side stage right about showtime and then it holds for about ten minutes before the curtain goes up to make sure people are in their seats, so I have about ten minutes there at side stage where I'll do some scales and stuff like that.Bp:
Speaking of January and the off-season from TSO, tell me about Song Division and your involvement in that program.Angus Clark:
About seven or eight years ago I got a call from Jonathan Mover about doing a corporate team-building session at Skyline Studios which he owned and operated at the time. Mover's an old friend, like Jane and Al, and he was actually in Marillion at one point. So it was an old New Year's Day call from Jonathan Mover and so I went down where we did this thing where we helped some nice folks from, I think, Lehman Brothers and someplace else, kind of write songs and then we tracked it. So they wrote a song and we tracked it. And it functioned as a team building activity for the participants on the corporate side. I had a lot of fun doing it as I was really into a lot of songwriting at the time, I was taking songwriting classes, and so I liked being able to exercise that muscle. It was like an episode of The Office, you have the nerdy one and the control freak one and this and that. I liked seeing all the personalities at play with each other and we had a good time doing it.
I didn't hear much about it after that so I ended up calling Andy Sharpe, the guy who founded the company, he's from Australia, or I emailed him and then we got on the phone together and decided to start working together in terms of launching Song Division in the States. He had already been running it in Australia. We started getting the word out there about what the offering is, it's where non-musicians are incorporated in the activity of writing a completely original song with the help of a band comprised of very high-level session players. It can be done in as little as twenty minutes, it can be done in an hour, it can be done very in-depth over the course of three hours, or it can be done at a corporate meeting held in a ballroom, it can be held at your boardroom at your office space, it can be done at a venue or a club. We'll do it on the beach, we've done it everywhere. We market it to corporate meetings and events marketplace and we're doing really well and it's really great to see how people respond to it. Team building as a product has maybe a checkered past in the States. People might think of falling backward into each other's arms or building a bike together or something like that. All of these activities seem either a little irrelevant to your workplace, to getting things done in the workplace or too touchy feely and abstract.
What we do in Song Division is, the working together is very language based, nine-times-out-of-ten whenever anyone is discussing in their planning meetings or stuff like that it's, "How do we express this? How do we outline our plan for people so that they understand what we're talking about and sign on with us to do this or that." In a Song Division session you have that exact same process. People are working together to come up with lyrics that express something about their company, what they do, what they mean to each other, to the client, what the messaging of the song is. So it's very relevant to the workplace, and how people work together in order to build consensus to decide on a course of action and get things done. And then they put all the lyrics together into a song and we perform the song and everyone has a great time and plays cowbell or tambourine, so you have the goofy fun element of it as well. And it's music based which everyone has music in their lives so it's universal. It doesn't rely on anybody having any musical talent so it's very egalitarian in that regard. It's not meant to be only for people who already love music or think that they're musically talented. It's meant to be for anybody regardless of your background or level in music. We're doing really well and I've got a bunch of January and February stuff planned. We've also got a one man band version of it, like a keynote speech version of it, which I'll be delivering in Boston in January. We're still having fun doing it and I think the clients are getting a lot out of it, so it's a great thing to be a part of. Go to songdivision.com for more info.Bp:
What are the 2016 plans for your band Daredevil Squadron?Angus Clark:
We are one bass track away from delivering this record to mix. If we can just get this bass track we can deliver it to the mix engineer and he's pretty quick so I expect to have it back by February and then I was just talking to Aurelien [Budynek] about lining up some shows. I need to get it out there 'cause it's been sitting around too long. You can't take five years to make a record 'cause then your record sounds five years old.Bp:
Awesome. Let me wrap up with a final TSO question, I know from the fan perspective how important the signing line is to get a chance to say hello and express our thanks to the musicians in TSO who have inspired us, but how important is it to you from the musician side?Angus Clark:
It's part of what makes TSO what it is. I can't separate it from what TSO is. It's part of the whole thing. You can't take it away without changing the entire feeling of TSO. It's more important to some of us maybe than we realize because we're so used to doing it. I don't do other arena gigs during the year, so you tend to forget that on a large sized production gig you get done and then you either go home or you go the bus and it's like that Savatage song, "When the Crowds Are Gone," 'cause the rush you get from the adulation of the crowd – it's really easy to sever yourself from what that is from reassuring your own ego, we're all performers so we're all doing this for the same reason, that little voice inside yourself that goes, "Me, me, me, me" so while you're up there and the show is going, it's easy to go, "These people are cheering, but it's the lights or it's the lasers or because of the whole thing. It's not me."
So when you just leave and you don't have any personal interaction with the people that have experienced the actual show, there's a certain emptiness to that experience that participating in the signing line actually alleviates. So these reasons may sound completely self-centered, and I apologize for that – I appreciate what it is for the fans. I think that's the most important thing. But from a performer's perspective to just get done in front of an arena crowd, which there are personal moments to it, but like you were saying before with a theatrical or a club experience, it's more impersonal to play an arena show. So to have the opportunity for the personal interaction subsequent to the stage presentation I think is really important, not only for the fans, but for us too. It puts that personal touch on the impact that we've created for people. It does that for us as much as it does it for the fans.Bp:
I've asked almost everyone I've interviewed in TSO about that and this is a different perspective on it, hearing it from you that way. There have been a few shows when I haven't been able to go through the line and there's a bit of a letdown, "Oh, I don't get to say, 'Hey' to Caffery, etc." It's interesting to hear that you described it from that perspective as well.Angus Clark:
Ok, cool. I hope it was different in a good way. [laughs]Bp:
Thank you for chatting this afternoon.Angus Clark:
No problem. Thanks, Brad.Additional Links:Angus Clark
- official siteSong Division
- official siteDaredevil Squadron
- official siteTrans-Siberian Orchestra
- official siteMore in my Trans-Siberian Orchestra Interview series -> here
Des Moines, IA - November 19, 2015 (Photo by The 2 Z Girlz)