Argos – The Canterbury Spaceship

Germans inspired by the Canterbury Scene? Interesting, right? I had an opportunity to talk to (well, exchanging emails is a form of talking, no?) Thomas Klarmann and Robert Gozon, founders of this German progressive rock act. We spoke about their beginnings, other projects, Canterbury… Enjoy!

Nick: Hey Thomas, thanks for the interview. I understand that Argos started as a solo project you began in 2005. Would you tell us where you got the idea to start the band?

Thomas: Five years ago I realized  that the music I favored personally was mainly from bands or artists that embraced all kinds of different musical areas to create their own sound. Stackridge, Hatfield and the North, Caravan, Fruupp, Gentle Giant or Bo Hansson are some of my heroes from the past that worked with that formula. With Argos I wanted to create original music like them, that could still surprise the listener by going from jazzy chord voicings to Beatles harmonies or electronic soundscapes in the blink of an eye ;-) So that was the task i set myself right from the start.

Nick: I am not sure, but somehow the name Argos sounds like it has something to do with ancient Greek mythology. Would you tell something more about this? Why did you use this name for your project?

Thomas: Around the time I started to write the first songs for the debut album, I saw an old Italian science fiction B Movie from Mario Bava called “Planet of the Vampires”. One of the spaceships in this movie was called Argos. It stuck with me and so by chance I had found the name of our band without delving into Greek mythology but finding it in an Italian B Movie instead ;-) . Another movie of Bava was called “Black Sabbath” so… guess what happened ;-) Later I found out that ARGOS is also the name of a big Retailer in the UK. This knowledge inspired me to think up the quirky songtitle “total mess retail” and some lyrics for a little tune I had written for our new album ;-)

Nick: Robert started a project called Superdrama at almost the same time Argos began. Please tell us something more about this project.

Robert: Around 2004 I met Robert, a drummer and lyricist who was willing to play progressive rock music – we started gathering a band and soon met Thomas, who joined us on bass. Finding a guitarist was a little bit more difficult. First we only had covers: Firth of Fifth, Starless (King Crimson) and Dead of Night (UK) – after a few months we began to write our own material. Playing in a band is great fun, but as we all have jobs (and families!), we’re sometimes not as involved as we could be! Well, at the moment of this interview we’re about to finish an album that should be out before the end of the year.

Nick: Argos’ first self titled album has been published in 2009 and this album is sort of homage to the Canterbury scene, and there is even a suite called “Canterbury Souls”. Would you tell us a bit more about this record?

Thomas: I have to tell you, that I am the only member of ARGOS, who had any knowledge of the Canterbury scene when we did the first album. So I guess the whole Canterbury influence comes exclusively from my side. Robert on the other hand is a big fan of Peter Hammill’s work, both as a solo artist and with Van der Graaf Generator. He also favours the music of XTC, Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan to name just a few. Of course we both like Gabriel era Genesis, Gentle Giant, Yes and the Beatles, which served as an inspiration for the other two suites on the first album. Ulf joined us after we had recorded demos of all the songs on ARGOS. He finally made the music we had written come alive with his amazing drumming skills.

Nick: In a recent interview with Andy Tillison of The Tangent we asked him a question that we’d like to ask you as well: Do you see the Canterbury Scene as something of a cult phenomenon? What’s your opinion about it? Also what are your favorite albums of it?

Thomas: In my opinion the British Canterbury scene, much like the German Krautrock scene produced very original music by consciously excluding some of the Anglo-American influences like Blues, Soul or Rock and Roll and found some inspiration in Modern Classic Music, Modal Jazz and Avantgarde Music instead. The big difference between Canterbury and Krautrock for me is the essentially “english” melodic and harmonic playfullness on one hand and the “teutonic” kind of tribal monotony and “spaciness”on the other hand. I personally always had a soft spot for the vocal style of Robert Wyatt, Richard Sinclair and Syd Barrett and loved Dave Stewart’s jazzy voicings combined with his “antifusion” melodiy lines on the keyboards when he played with Hatfield and National Health. You don’t hear to much of that essential english style in today’s charts anymore. Its mostly back to Soul and Rhythm’n’Blues with Amy Whinehouse, Duffy etc. So maybe today the Canterbury style has become a sort of dated cult phenomenon. Canterbury album favorites are: all Hatfield and National Health albums. The first three Caravan albums. And every album that features Richard Sinclair. He is my favorite singer and a great bass player too :-) I also like to mention the fantastic organ solo of Dave Stewart at the end of “Halfway between heaven and earth”. For me this is the quintessential Canterbury organ solo. Just perfect :-)

Nick: “Circles” is your second album, released under the label Musea. In my opinion you served much more mature music this time, covering each element, starting from music itself to production. Was it easier to make this album, after your first one which opened the door for Argos? How long did the recording process take? Give us some technical details about this record.

Robert: I really can’t tell you much about the technical aspects, but to me it felt easier and more natural to make this record, because we started to feel like a band for the first time – some songs took quite a while to finish, Thomas and I had some older material which we worked out and arranged for the album and I think we can both say that we’re absolutely happy to have both Ulf and Rico playing great stuff on this one! They are exceptional musicians and add a lot the music. I’m especially proud of the longer tracks we made – my influences are more classical prog like Genesis and, not to forget, Van der Graaf Generator and you can hear this on Circles, I think. We put a lot of effort in producing the vocals and working out harmonies, etc. this time which was great fun too!
Thomas: I like to add that Rico our new guitar player was also heavily involved in the mixing and production process of “Circles”. He has great “ears” and this forced me to work harder on the details during the final mixing. I personally learned a lot from him and the “mistakes” I made on our debut ;-)

Nick: I consider Argos to be a band influenced strongly by 70’s prog rock, especially the Canterbury Scene, as we could ascertain from above. But what do you guys listen to and where do you draw inspiration for your music from?

Robert: Apart from the obvious influences I do like Steely Dan very much, and other artists from the 70s or 80s like Joni Mitchell or even the Pet Shop Boys – what I find fascinating is their approach to consider music as as Gesamtkunstwerk, more in the realm of classical composers or architects, the way I see it. Pink Floyd worked so, too. German music is not that interesting, I’m afraid. What I’d like to mention is the band Blumfeld, especially for the lyrics.
Thomas: I like to listen to ECM Jazz: Eberhard Weber, Terry Rypdal, Ralph Towner, Bennie Maupin etc. Pekka Pohjola and Bo Hansson, who sadly have passed away far too soon are among my favourite composers of imaginary music. Jaga Jazzist, Motorpsycho, The Decemberists, Paatos, the Flaming Lips, Air and Elephant9 are some of the more contemporary bands I enjoy listening to.

Nick: How do you see today’s progressive rock scene? Do you think the internet has helped make new musicians more available to the public, or do you think new technology has suppressed the charm of old bands? Certainly, I have divided opinions on this.

Robert: It’s difficult: what counts in the end is the quality of the music, although that doesn’t necessarily translate to the sales figures, obviously! Some older bands are artistically dead; I have to say, whereas others remain very active and are still able to produce great music. Neo-Prog, in general, is not an option, I’m afraid. IQ of course is and exception: beautiful melodies, a very strong singer and a wonderful live band. When it comes to innovation I would say that after 1978 most bands began either to copy the classical styles of Yes, Genesis, etc. or put things together differently (new influences from Jazz, Folk, Heavy Metal) like Motorpsycho or Dream Theater.

Nick: Have you been promoting Argos’ music live? Do you get any offers to play live? If you ask me, it’s bad that a band like yours doesn’t do gigs.

Robert: Two of us live in Mainz, the others up in the far north of Gemany. Playing live? It’s possible, but unlikely, I would say. Unless the demand would be overwhelming… (hahaha).
Thomas: We are all used to play music live with our other bands (Superdrama, Mutabor,…) The main problem is the distance of 700 km between Mainz and Greifswald, which obviously makes it hard for us to meet and rehearse. But… (like Robert just mentioned) if we are invited to play on a special prog event and don’t have to pay for playing there (Cheers to Andy Tillison from a 50 year old bass player with two progbands ;-) ), it would certainly be much fun to perform the ARGOS songs live.

Nick: You took participation on The Flower Kings tribute album with the song “Cosmic Circus/Babylon”. It’s nice choice, as “Adam & Eve” is one of my favorite TFK albums. Please tell us a bit more about this.

Thomas: Robert had the idea of covering “Cosmic Circus” and to include “Babylon” as an instrumental middle eight. When we worked out the arrangement for the Babylon section, we composed some new parts and thereby added some unexpected musical twist and turns to the original composition of Thomas Bodin which was much fun to do.

Nick: What are your all-time favorite albums?

Thomas: There are a few albums which still manage to unfold a certain  magic for me   after listening to them for so many times. Here’s an uncompleted list:
Caravan: In the Land of Grey and Pink

Pulsar: Halloween

Hatfield and the North: The Rotters Club

England: Gardenshed

Fruupp: Modern Masquerades

PFM: Per un Amico

Eberhard Weber: Silent Feet

Bo Hansson: Lord of the Rings,

Attic Thoughts

Refugee: Refugee etc…

Nick: What comes next for Argos?

Robert: A great third album, possibly with a long track (I can reveal this, can’t I?). We do have some ideas, but we haven’t really started working yet.

Nick: I’m off my questions, so if there’s anything you would like to say, the next few lines are yours.

Thomas: It was a pleasure to answer your questions, Nick. Thank you for giving us this great opportunity to talk about our band, influences, plans and the ARGOS music. I also would like to say a big: THANK YOU to all the dedicated progfans and personal friends, who have helped to promote the two ARGOS albums. You know who you are :-)

Nick: Thank you for the interview, guys. Hope to hear you more from you soon.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.
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