Chris McGarel was quite impressed with “Harmageddon”, the latest album by progressive rock/metal outfit Affector. Drummer Collin Leijenaar was more than happy to share his insights on this new project, working together with luminaries like Neil Morse and Ted Leonard and trying to find the right balance between work and relaxation.
Thank you for finding some time in your busy schedule to answer some questions about Affector and about your own work. Prog fans will know you, Mike and Ted from your work with established bands or artists (Neal Morse, Enchant, Symphony X etc.). Affector started as a collaboration between you and the less-well-known Daniel Fries. How did that come about and how did Mike and Ted later come to be involved?
The foundation for that what would become Affector was laid in 2005, when I was on tour with Neal Morse. After the concert Daniel Fries came up to me and gave me a demo CD and asked me if I would like to listen to it. So we went to his car and when he popped in the CD of his car, and started playing his music, I was intrigued. I liked his playing but also his songwriting. So we kept in contact. Somewhere in the back of my mind I wanted to see if I could hook up with Daniel to make music together, and that idea stayed for a year or so, until the time was right to start working on our plans to record a CD.
Daniel knew Ted Leonard (Enchant/Thought Chamber/Spock’s Beard) & Mike LePond (Symphony X) and asked them to collaborate on this album. And while working on the album we noticed that the material was just too good to be just a project, so we morphed it into a band. We hope to be able to make music for a long time, write and record more albums, and of course do tours. With Affector we want to make the kind of music that we like ourselves. Not really think of a commercially correct ‘how-to-write-a-hit-song’ kind of music. Just something that comes from our heart naturally. And that was the basic idea which would become the album “Harmagedon”.
Why did you decide to use guest keyboard players rather than recruit a full-time keyboardist?
It just did not came to it yet. We asked Alex (Argento – guitars) to be part of the band, but unfortunately he is too busy with all his own projects to be able to commit to the band. And we also had this dream of using those great keyboard players, so for the album it worked out. We will see what the future will bring, but we will probably recruit a full-time keyboard player. But also we love the idea of having guests on our albums, so who knows what the future will bring!
A lot of the arrangements were built from the drum parts. This sounds quite challenging. Can you explain a little about this writing process?
We started working on the album around 2006 or something. These days with high speed internet and computer-based recording it is very easy to make music without being in the same studio all together. Everyone involved in this album recorded in their own studio. We layered the recordings; Daniel Fries and myself wrote the basic song ideas. Firstly Daniel recorded his guitar tracks to a click and added the guide vocals. Then I recorded my drum parts. This was a very creative process, since there nothing definite. So I changed time signatures and gave the music a different approach by looking for the non-obvious route to go.
When I finished the drums, the tracks were sent to Ted and Mike so they could recorded their parts. After that the recordings were sent to the keyboardists and the orchestra. We told everyone involved to be inspired and play whatever the feel to play, so it would reflect their musical character the best. And in that we found a great chemistry. All the parts really enhanced each other, and to us it was like we where in one room together playing off each other and getting inspired by each other. But then in a virtual world, since everything was played in different studio’s and bounced back and forth by the wonders of the internet, Dropbox and Gobbler.
After I received all the recorded tracks, I flew to Los Angeles to mix the album with Rich Mouser (Transatlantic/Neal Morse/Spock’s Beard) in his studio The Mouse House. And Rich added a touch of his own into the music. He is like the secret fifth member of the band. His signature mix really added an extra layer to the music.
The Polish Sinfonietta Consonus are featured to great effect throughout “Harmagedon”. Was the music written with an orchestra in mind or did it become apparent later on that an orchestra would add something to the album?
I always wanted to use an orchestra for music like this, and it always lingered in the back of my mind to do so, but it was just right up to the end of the making of this album that this dream came true. The great thing of having a real orchestra is the fact that every single instrument is played by a musician who breaths his or her character into the music. It gives so much more life and energy to the music in stead of using a synth to mimic an orchestra.
So I was very happy that we where able to use the talent of Michal Mierzejewski (the arranger & director of the orchestra). I got to know about the Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra through a Neal Morse tribute track that they did. We used it during our Testimony 2 Tour with the Neal Morse Band as intro-tape for the first set. So I contacted Michal if he would be interested in contributing with his orchestra to our album as well. Even though he was working fully towards his Dream Theater tribute, he immediately wanted to work with us. And we are very honored to have the orchestra play on our album!
Since we let all the guests just do what they feel inspired to do, I gave Michal the same freedom. “Just arrange & play like you see fit”. So he sent me this pile of tracks, and I had to go through them all and decided what parts to use and what parts not to use. And I was floored by what I heard. Just straight up BEAUTIFUL!
During the mixing of the album Rich Mouser and I thought that it would be a shame if we only used the orchestra inside our music – it would be so cool if people could hear the tracks solo-ed up. So during the mixing process I made an extra bonus track out of all the orchestral tracks. I took parts of all the music they recorded, and arranged them to what we call “HarmaSuite – Orchestral Outtakes”. This bonus track is only available on the vinyl edition of “Harmagedon”, only for sale in our webshop.
Will fans get a chance to see Affector play live?
Yes, we really hope to be able to. We are currently working on getting a tour together, but the financial crisis combined with less people going to concerts makes it hard for venues and promoters to make us offers that make any sense financially to be able to do a tour. So we are searching for possibilities and hope to be able to do a tour.
Do you conceive “Harmagedon” as a one-off project or might we hear more in future?
Actually we are already writing new songs for a second album!
In addition to Affector and Neal Morse, you play in Dilemma and blogged last year that you were recording as a band again. Can we expect a new Dilemma album?
Yes, we are currently recording a new Dilemma album. That long awaited second album! But because we had to say goodbye to our singer, we are currently holding auditions for a new singer. As soon as we have a new singer, we will finish the album and see where it will take us!
With all your drumming activities, you also provide session work, run a music school and own a business helping bands put on shows in Europe. Do you ever find time to relax away from music?
Haha, that’s a good one! But yes, I learned to keep enough rest and relaxation in between all the busy work. As an entrepreneur it is always difficult to not only work. And in my case, my hobby has become my work, so that makes it even more difficult. But doing that what you love gives you energy as well, and I love what I do!
Neal’s music is obviously informed by his religious faith and “Harmagedon” takes the Book of Revelations as its theme. Do you see writing and performing music as a way of communicating your own personal faith?
Yes, and no. I don’t make music because I want to communicate my personal believes in a way that other people should do what I do. That’s up to everyone personally. But that what is in your heart will reflect on everything you do or make.
With such a busy schedule what plans do you have for the rest of 2012?
Currently I’m very busy promoting Affector and trying to set up a tour. Next month I will be recording drums for the upcoming solo album of guitarist/keyboardist Dave Bainbridge (Iona) and I have been asked to play drums on an album of a Dutch progressive metal band, who are without a drummer. Somewhere in between I’ll record a track for Mark Truack (Unitopia) on which Jon Anderson (Yes) will also be featured.
Also, we’ll continue on working on the Dilemma album. And I was asked to join a new band with Dec Burke, John Jowitt and Mark Westworth (who play in bands like Frost/IQ/Arena/Darwin’s Radio). We are writing songs now, and hope to release an album in the future. My music school is booming, so one of the other things will be searching for a new building to move to. I’m excited about all of this!! The only thing I need now is 48 hours in one day!