Interview Chris Rupert (Falling Edge)
"I'm always trying to write something fresh, not copying the same things done in the past."
(September 2019, text by Henri Strik, pictures provided by Falling Edge)
The Canadian progressive rock band Falling Edge certainly deserves some more attention in the progressive rock scene. Most of all after you have heard their third and latest album FE3. Therefore Background Magazine invited band leader Chris Rupert to talk about this album and to put the band into the spotlight!
Does the album title FE3 stand for album number three made by Falling Edge, or does it have a deeper meaning?
How does it happen that the album was mainly made by yourself on vocals, bass, guitars, keyboards and vocals next to Rob Kovar on drums? What happened to the musicians who played on the first two albums of the band?
I had written a fair amount of the material that would be on Convergence At Fossil Falls, but during rehearsals for recording that album, Jim (Walsh) announced that he was leaving. We were fortunate enough to find a replacement in a short period of time, but a few months after that Steve announced his departure, followed shortly after by Kevin. With the exception of Minstrel In The Corner, I played everything on the entire Convergence album.
I continued to look for musicians to complete Falling Edge, but in the interest of keeping things moving, I began to write material for the next album (i.e., FE3). I had jammed with Rob on a couple of occasions, and when I asked him to play drums for Falling Edge he agreed and so we started working out what to do with the drums for the songs I had written. By the time we started recording, we still hadn't found suitable replacements on keyboards and bass, so, again, in the interest of getting the music out there, I decided I would just play those instruments myself.
How difficult was it to record and write the album mainly on your own and what were the pros and cons of working almost completely alone?
In some ways it's easier and it's definitely faster for me to work alone, because the whole process is more efficient; I know how I want things to go, so I can just write other parts on the spot. For example, frequently when I'm writing a song, and I'm working on, say, the guitar part, I'll get an idea for what the bass might do there, or a keyboard fill. When I'm working alone I can just work that part out and record it into the demo. If there are other musicians involved, I'll be more inclined to wait until we can jam the song out and see what their take is on it, and that's the one of the drawbacks of working alone - the song is written entirely by me (except drums, now that Rob is with me), so it doesn't have the benefit of other creative minds being added to the overall process. And that's certainly happened with previous incarnations of the band, where we'll be jamming out a new song and someone comes up with something killer that I hadn't thought of. That being said, once I've begun working on a song I usually have a pretty clear vision of what needs to be played by what instrument by the time I've finished it.
Huge. Rob's playing and composing style fit perfectly with the songs that I write - the parts he comes up with are exactly what the song needs. When I wrote the songs on this album, I wrote everything but the drums, although in some cases I had some idea what I wanted for the drums in certain parts of the song. I would present Rob with a demo of the completed song (minus drums), he would mull it over for a while, and then we would get together and he would bounce his ideas off me. In most cases, I was literally thrilled with what he was suggesting; I couldn't keep the smile off my face because it added exactly what the song needed in terms of drums/percussion. There were other times, though, that were kind of like what I was describing at the end of the last question - he would come up with something that I hadn't even considered. And very often in those cases he would be selling it to me, trying to explain how it was going to work, and I'd be saying. “No, I don't think that's going to work there” and he'd start talking like I was either deaf or crazy. When I finally understood what he wanted to do and how it would fit I'd be saying “WOAH - that's so cool!” So having that extra creative mind in there was very helpful in that he was able to take things down a path that I didn't even know was there. Of course, there's the obvious benefit of the reduced work load for me, since I didn't have to write drum parts.
On I Will Not Comply I did hear also a female guest vocalist who is unfortunately not mentioned on the credits. Am I right?
Nope - that's me.
Why did you choose to start and end the album with the composition Where Should We Go From Here?
Where Should We Go From Here? was the first song I wrote for this album, and I wrote it somewhere around the time after the release of the first album but before everyone left. I know this because I remember telling Jim, Steve and Kevin that I had written the shortest Falling Edge song to date at a rehearsal one night. It seems to me that I also emailed it to them at some point too. Anyway, it sat in limbo while I finished Convergence. When I started working on material for FE3, I knew that I wanted to include it, but I wasn't sure exactly how. I do remember thinking at the time that the song was somehow prophetic; I had written it before everyone left, remember, and it seemed like a perfect question to ask, although I hadn't originally written it in the sense of “Everyone left - so where do we go from here?” Before I completed all the songs on FE3, I thought I might use it as either the first or the last song on the album, as if I was asking myself the question. I'm sure that I thought of putting it as the last song on Convergence as well, but I thought that the album ended so nicely with the maniacal ranting of The Sniper, the Piper, and Me that I didn't want to ruin it. I'm glad that I didn't, because it worked so well in a different context on FE3.
I think it's worth noting here that I didn't initially envision the songs on FE3 to be so thematically linked. The first song I wrote after Where Should We Go From Here? was I Will Not Comply so there still wasn't much of a connection there. As the rest of the songs started presenting themselves lyrically, I began to see how each of them explored a different aspect of life and living life, and it was then that I saw how the song could fit in with the overall concept. It was several songs in though, or maybe I had even completed all of the writing, when I was inspired to put the first part of the song as the first song on the album and the last part of the song as the last song. The song had originally been recorded as one uninterrupted song, but I split it up to make it work in that context. As an interesting side note, I remember that Rob tracked the drums for that song and Seventeen in the same afternoon. So the album begins with the question, “Where Should We Go From Here?”, and at the end of the song, before Experience/Innocence begins, you hear a door open, and you have your answer; the door has opened, and the journey begins. You don't know where you're going, but you're going. At the end of Moments of Truth, you hear the door close, as though the journey has ended, or maybe we've come back; it's up to the listener to interpret. And then you get the same question: “Where Should We Go From Here?” And I think everyone will have a different answer to that question and a different understanding as to why the question was asked in the first place and why it was asked twice. That's part of the beauty of art - the same thing will mean different things to different people depending on their own experience of the art and how it relates to their lives.
The album has more heavy guitar parts than you can hear on its predecessors. How come?
If we look at the heavy guitar songs on the album, I'd say we're talking about that middle 4 - starting with Seventeen and ending with What Will You Do When You Find Me? Seventeen is a riff that I had written some time ago, and it really needs to be played on a heavy guitar to get the idea across. I almost left that song off the album because it seemed to jazz fusiony, but hey, this is prog so anything goes, right? I Will Not Comply has kind of a similar story - I think that to convey the intensity of the struggle encapsulated by that song it needed to have that heaviness element. Gone isn't particularly heavy in and of itself - it has that long keyboard intro (that, incidentally, Rob kept teasing me about for it sounding “80's New Wave - an opinion I did not share) and the acoustic guitar in the chorus. The heavy guitar in the verses and solo adds a nice contrast to those things. Finally, What Will You Do When You Find Me? has that high register guitar theme that sounded best accompanied by other guitars, and so that song ended up being primarily heavy guitars.
This is actually a very good question, and to understand my style of writing and production better it's important to know that I'm very fussy about arrangements (Rob can attest to this). I spend a lot of time trying things on different instruments, trying different patches for the keyboard parts, and making sure that everything fits the way I want it to before I commit to anything. It's a time consuming process but one that I feel is absolutely necessary to arrive at the best possible presentation of a song.
The album cover is a dungeon, yes, but it's not meant to be dark, although I can see how one might perceive it that way. When you think of a dungeon you think of imprisonment, and a cruel imprisonment at that. The writings on the wall are the album title (on the front cover), and the song titles (on the back). They were scratched into the walls by people as they escaped the dungeon. That's where the “not dark” part comes in - it's not that there are no people in the dungeon, because there are plenty. The point is that some of them are getting out.
Some people did complain about the not so strong lead vocals you did provide, did you ever consider using a guest singer to do the vocal parts?
There's a certain amount of irony in that question, because aside from this magazine, I've never read anything but positive remarks about the vocals (although I honestly don't think I sound as much like Fish or Peter Gabriel as people say, and I'm certainly not trying to sound like anyone). That being said, I'm not against using someone else as a vocalist, provided that they can capture the spirit of the lyrics appropriately. I think that there are a lot of generic sounding singers in prog at the moment; I'm definitely not interested in that.
The first album had lots of musical parts which reminded me of acts such as Pink Floyd, Genesis and Camel, something which I loved a lot. However they are almost gone on the next two releases. Only Moments Of Truth has traces of them. How did this happen?
None of those things were actually intentional. As a composer I try not to sound like anything else, although as I'm sure you must know it's very difficult, if not impossible, to sound completely new and different. We're all working with the same 12 notes after all, and using the same line-up of instruments (i.e., guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards) as previous bands have, so it follows that there will be some similarity. I also try not to sound like I'm purposely trying to sound different, because I think that takes away from the song in many cases. So as far as the first album goes, I wasn't trying to sound like the bands you've mentioned, although I can hear the comparison. I suppose the reason the next 2 albums have kind of moved away from that is mostly that I'm always trying to write something fresh and new, and especially not to simply copy the same thing I've done in the past. There will always be a commonality of style, I suppose (even someone as wildly eclectic and genius as Frank Zappa is always instantly recognizable) but I try to give my fans something different with every song. I think that a composer also evolves as he writes more songs, so that things become different over time. A band like Rush is a great example of this concept; you can clearly hear the music evolving as you move from one album to the next, especially in the period from, say, Power Windows all the way back to the first album. You can even look at their first album and compare it to Fly By Night and hear that they've evolved tremendously.
I did read that you and Rob already started working on a new studio album. Will it be the two of you again who are doing mostly the recordings and compositions?
I actually just finished writing the basic framework (guitar and keyboards) of the last song for the new album (spoiler alert! - it's almost 27 minutes long) so as of now, yes, it will be just the two of us. I say “as of now” because I have been talking to some other musicians about possibly joining the band. If that happens, I'm not opposed to letting them write their own (keyboard and bass) parts, at least in some areas.
Any other future plans next to the recording of the new album such as maybe playing your music in front of an audience?
As I mentioned above, I've been talking to some other musicians about joining forces with Rob and I, but I have no firm commitments as of yet. I would love to get out and play some of this music live, so we'll see what happens.
review album 'Falling Edge'
review album 'Convergence At Fossil Falls'
review album 'FE3'
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