Interview Anton Roolaart

“I wasn’t happy playing covers, I wanted to make original music only”

(August 2010, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen)

Sometimes we receive an album a long time after its original release date. This also happened with the debut album of Anton Roolaart, released in 2007. However, Dreamers (see review) is such a wonderful album that I was curious to know more about this American multi-instrumentalist. Roolaart originally came from The Netherlands, but he now lives in New York City. One thing led to another and resulted ultimately in the interview below.

Can you tell our readers something about yourself and your family?

Anton Roolaart : “Yes, I would like to do that. I was born in Tehran, the capital of Iran on January 26, 1961. My Dutch family went back to The Netherlands to the village of Laren when I was one year old. I have two sisters: one moved to Spain many years ago, but passed away sixteen years ago; the other sister now lives in Dordrecht (Netherlands) with her family, where she has lived for many years. I have a brother living in the USA; I’m the youngest of the family. My father had a job at an international textile company and travelled to several countries, living there for a few years, for instance in Australia just before I was born, in Iran and the USA. Later, he lived in Germany for many years before retiring back in The Netherlands. His position was to set up branch offices in other countries. Hence, my father’s business required him to move to the USA and that’s why we emigrated to America in the late sixties. Several years later, my parents divorced and I remained with my mother in the USA. We were raised speaking Dutch at home. I still speak Dutch quite well. My father currently lives in Laren; he’s 86 now. My mother lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. She originally hails from Belgium, Antwerp area. I travelled back and forth a lot over the years between the USA, Europe and The Netherlands and I almost moved back in the eighties when I travelled and lived in Spain and The Netherlands for a while, one year total.” 

Can you mention some musical influences?

“In my early teens I was influenced by Cat Stevens’ Tea For The Tillerman. Then I was inspired by Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis, David Bowie, The Beatles and classical music mostly of the Baroque period. Lately I have been listening to Steve Wilson and PorcupineTree, some of the music anyway. More recently I‘ve been listening a lot to this music of Blackfield. It’s simple but nice. There is much more ... but anyway.”

Have you always been interested in music? Did you study music or are you a self-taught man?

“My father was a devote listener to classical music, especially opera and he played it often at home in my youth. I started taking classical guitar lessons at the age of thirteen when my mother bought me a classical guitar. I took lessons for a couple of years from an instructor which was Gus Tool who had studied with Jesus Silva, a well-known Mexican classical guitarist whom I actually met and got to know a long time ago, but has since passed away I think, but I’m not really sure. Later I started to learn and play songs from Cat Stevens, Neil Young, The Beatles, and so on. I’m mostly self-taught with guitar, but soon started to follow the guitar playing of Steve Howe, which just clicked to me so immensely and stood out in many ways.” 

Do you remember how and when you got in contact with progressive rock music for the first time?

By the age of fifteen, I was introduced to progressive rock with bands as Yes and Genesis by friends at school from a listening point of view. I saw Yes when I was fifteen, it was awesome and I saw them many times afterwards. On growing older this genre became more important in my personal musical journey, including the radio-station I founded six years ago: Anyway, I guess I should note that I wrote my first song Shipwreck when I was eighteen. I plan to record that song one day, but I was still developing my singing at that time. I spent a lot of time fooling around with my guitar and trying various things as well on twelve-string guitar. I played in cafes in and around Charlotte at that time. I was also following the music of Jon Anderson a lot and I felt connected with him in some ways. I like ambient and some new age music. I thought that Jon’s first solo album Olias Of Sunhillow was ahead of it’s time in a way. I had a chance to meet him a few times and it was great. I also moved near New York City, got married and raised a family. In the nineties, I played a lot in cafes and in several local cover bands, but I wasn’t happy playing covers, I wanted to make original music only.”

You’re also interested in sound recording. How did it happen?

  “After high school, I went to a two year school for electronics and also started to become more interested in sound recording. As the school offered a year program in ‘sound recording’, I also applied for their program, before digital of course. I ended up as an apprentice for some time in a local studio. I enjoy the technical aspects of recording and production very much to date. Soon after that, MIDI came along and I studied it a lot. I started to get some keyboards and fool around with layers and textures and make some recordings for myself. A friend of mine said I was producing music that was more in line with soundtracks for films at that time. At times it was almost leaning towards new age music. I spent a lot of time in the eighties recording and using MIDI, but mostly for myself. I didn’t do anything with these recordings. ”  

You can say you’re a multi-instrumentalist now. Did you learn to play all these instruments intentionally or by chance?

Well, intentionally more or less. I was going to shows and following progressive rock music more and more. I decided to take some lessons in jazz guitar which was very refreshing for me. I also studied piano for a couple of years, but I really can’t play very well. Nevertheless, I use keyboards to compose all the time. I even took drum lessons for a short while, but time didn’t permit it and my wife didn’t like the idea of having drums at home because they are too noisy. Although my friends had asked me many times to do something with music I was making, I didn’t think of creating a CD or something like that at the time. I was always recording a lot. However, in the last eight years or so that has all changed and I’m now very much into producing music that has become a big part of my life.” 

You also run a radio station called ProgRock Radio. Why did you start a radio-station in the first place and can you tell me something about it?

Part of my approach to be more serious with music happened ten years ago, after I had an episode with cancer. It was scary for a while, but all is okay now… I was sick and I thought a lot about things as one reflects on life, when you know life might be taken away from you sooner than you think. I knew in my heart that I wanted to create and produce music. I started to think about a CD-project back in 2004. It took two and a half years to complete. About six years ago I ended up starting an online radio station. I’d always liked to listen to online radio late at night for many years because it’s wonderful. I actually didn’t have a great plan to start a radio station, but it happened anyway. In short, I wanted to promote this genre and all the wonderful artists and music. So ProgRockRadio started and I enjoy it so much, so much great music and the chance to meet some artists I have admired for so long… Some of them ended up being friends. It’s a lot of work, labour of love, but enjoyable.”

What can you say about your debut album Dreamer?

“The Dreamer-project started in 2005. I originally was thinking to call it On To The Afterglow, but later I changed my mind to Dreamer, which is another track on the album. My brother used to say I was a dreamer, but the song itself is about something else. It’s about a mystical beautiful woman that you might see in town and be curious about. Anyway the term ‘dreamer’ stuck out for me as a good name for the album. I believe in pursuing your dreams and I admire people that work hard to achieve them, despite all odds. So, I finally decided to put out a CD and find some musicians to help me out. I called my friend Vinnie Puryear who is an exceptional bass player. I’ve known him for years and he graciously accepted to be part of the project. Vinnie doesn’t have a progressive rock background, but he’s a great musician. Then, one of my friends listened to my music and gave me Rave Tesar ’s number who he had met some time ago. Rave also lives in New Jersey. I was impressed with his talent and I called Rave to discuss the project and we soon became good friends. He’s a wonderful person and I can never thank him enough for his friendship and talent. He’s an excellent musician and has worked with many well-known artists and people in the music industry. Rave may be more known for his work with Annie Haslam and Renaissance, they are now touring with Steve Hackett.  For four tracks I recruited drummer Charles Descarfino who was a friend of Rave’s and mostly plays on Broadway. He has an orchestral percussion background, which I liked, and he performed in the original Broadway-show of Pete Townsend’s Tommy in NYC. The other drummer was recommended by the same friend that recommended Rave. I brought in Rich Berends for the other four tracks on the album. Rich is the drummer in the band Mastermind. Anyway, both are wonderful drummers. Besides writing the songs and arranging them, I also did a lot of the keyboard layers, as I love that work. I produced and mixed the album myself and it was a great experience for me. I grew musically and technically with it. But, as I mentioned, Rave also helped me. Some of the songs were living pieces growing in what they are as time went on.”

How did you get in contact with Chris Squire (Yes)?

“When I was half way done with the project, I got a phone call from someone working with Chris Squire to do an interview with him and Steve Nardelli for ProgRockRadio as they were reforming The Syn. I had a couple of interviews with them. Later they invited me to London and I got to know Steve Nardelli.  Anyway, at that point they started a small label for their projects, but they were also interested in signing other artists. Steve and Chris liked it and Steve made me an offer. I signed a contract with Umbrello Records for Dreamer. It ends up that Chris wasn’t actually a real partner of Umbrello Records although at the time they said he was. But that’s another story. Anyway, after the positive reactions to the album I decided to put a band together and did several gigs to support Dreamer in 2007 and 2008. My friend and Nearfest organizer Jim Robinson gave me a few local gigs. I found Kendall Scott, a wonderful keyboard player, who’s now a good friend and we continue to work on the music together. The album cover was done by Michael Phipps who also did the cover for Advent and the imagery for He is a wonderful artist. The painting for the cover is based on various lyrics in some of the songs on the album and Michael did an awesome job on it.” 

What are you doing currently?

“I’m working on my second album which actually started two years ago, but due to some things happening in my life last year, I had to stop for a while. I got separated and lost my job for six months which did set me back. Here in the USA the government doesn’t help that much at all, but things are better now. Kendall Scott and I are still working on it. I’ve most of the pieces decided that will be on the album and I’ve been talking to Rave again to work with him to start on this project as well. My finances are better now too. Some of the music will be in the vein of Dreamer, but there will also be some different aspects as I grow musically. It will include a couple of songs I wrote many years ago and new ones written in the last few years. I’m currently looking for a drummer for the recordings and hopefully also put together a band again. I’m also currently planning to have some interesting guest(s) on the next CD, but nothing I can mention at this time. I hope to complete it late this year or early next year, but one thing’s for sure: I plan to keep doing this and I will continue my musical journey. I feel blessed for being able to do what I do and I’m humbled by the positive response to the music. Hopefully we’ll get into a prog festival one of these days.”

Thank you for answering my questions, Anton!

You’re welcome, Henri, it’s been a pleasure”

More info on the Internet:
Anton Roolaart Website
ProgRock Radio
album review 'Dreamer'

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