Interview with MICHAEL TREW of AUTUMN ELECTRIC

Autumn Electric

Seattle progsters Autumn Electric have been putting out albums since 2008. The band led by multi-instrumentalist Michael Trew have grown over the years what is the best shown through the group’s latest opus – this year’s rock opera “Star Being Earth Child.” Michael talked with Prog Sphere about the band’s beginnings, but he also gives his insight on every of the band’s five released albums.

Hello Michael. How’s life these days?

Very calm and quiet, enjoying the last summer days, and a bit of time off.

Can you please tell us how did Autumn Electric begin? Have you been involved in any other projects/bands before AE came to surface?

I was recording a solo record which turned into “Very Soon the Light” in 2008. Doing things with a band name began feeling more concise and unified. Keyboardist, Naomi Smith and I both played in AE’s immediate precursor The Undercover Llamas (2005-6), which was more of a folk and pop rock band, but I could hear the seeds of what might become AE. I would also mention two Prog bands I played in from 2000-2003, The Band of Myrth with it’s rock opera “The White Cat“, and Lark Ascending which recorded a concept album on Norse Mythology at Western University in Bellingham WA.

You compose music and write lyrics for AE, in other words you’re the main man in true meaning of the word. Is it hard to be behind the creation process?

The creative process is the best part. Sometimes it takes patience to get the best end result, or take certain risks.

Autumn Electric has got five albums so far, so let’s talk about them. First one, named “Very Soon the Light” has been published in 2008Please tell us more about this album, such as the story behind it, the composing process, as well as recording process. Are you satisfied with how this album has been received? The album feels as a singer-songwriter album.

It was originally a solo record, with songs that were written from 1999-2007, so I would consider it an acoustic “best of” in a way. Most of the rock material during this time was used in the bands I mentioned. About half of the songs here feature the early AE core band (Smith, Hardy and Eballar), and I would say the song “Zulfiqar” is the best example of the direction we would continue in. I had big hopes for the record at the time, not realizing some of it’s limitations, but it was definitely a personal landmark. This was recorded at Jesse Tiamson’s studio in Seattle, WA.

2010’s “If You’re Home” is far more electric than its predecessor, and I would say it’s more focused. Recall how was it working on this record.

Again working at Tiamson’s studio with a slightly bigger budget ($500!). This one represented to new core band of myself, Smith and drummer Dan Desrosiers. The three of us had recently finished our first US tour, so it’s a lot of travel themed songs. The album’s beginning reminds me a lot now of part of Orange Stars from Flowers For Ambrosia, with my attempt at a Raaga intro. There is also some misguided use of keyboard strings by me, but it was good to try some things out. We were always proud of Dan’s space-guitar bit on the song “Canyons“.

Autumn Electric 2012

Autumn Electric cca 2012

What’s the story behind 2012’s “Make Me a Tree”? Your R.E.M. influences are on a very high level with this one, I would say.

This one was written in the months after my oldest brother passed away, and has a lot of Pacific NW and Americana themes to it. Our new friend Johnny Unicorn had decided to produce it, and we both thought we should approach it sort of like REM’s “Automatic For the People”. My wife-to-be, Lauren added some wonderful string arrangements and woodwind playing. There is a choir song. I don’t think there is anything we didn’t do on this record. Some of the folk rock could be attributed to Barton McGuire’s additions of tremolo guitar, singing saw and accordion.

Last year’s “Flowers for Ambrosia” comes up with a noticeable difference in production in comparison with “Make Me a Tree.” I also feel that this album is more “mature.” What do you say?

There was a big shift in the band with the addition of Chris Barrios (drums,production), Max Steiner (lead guitar), and Johnny Unicorn as full time (bassist). I think their playing and my writing sort of hit this cross point where everything worked.

Star Being Earth ChildAnd finally we come to this year’s “Star Being Earth Child,” which makes it easy to say that it’s the most complex and demanding Autumn Electric album so far. Do you agree?

I would agree. I don’t think that was on purpose really. The story I wanted to tell and they way I wanted to present it just fell into a certain format. I would say this one takes the most listens to fully grasp, which is something I like to go for.

Tell me more about the story that inspired “Star Being Earth Child.” The album is based on a “rock opera” concept.

Imagine you have fled the destroyed Earth, and came to another one only to see it’s people making the same mistakes. It approaches from the idea that we have far more power than we realize. There are a lot of jabs at Sci Fi, most notably the Close Encounters theme.

How important is it for you to have good artwork for Autumn Electric?

Very important.

Which bands/artists have influenced you in the creation of Autumn Electric’s music?

Yeah, lots of oldies. This time around I think I would cite Wind and Wuthering, a bit of Fragile, Donovan‘s “Cosmic Wheels“, a touch of Klezmer and maybe Radiohead.

How do you see the US progressive rock scene? Would you give us some of your all time favorites as well some of the bands we should pay attention to?

I would say it is limping along, but heavily bolstered by the efforts of the people doing prog festivals. If only there was one in every town. My list of current bands I like is really long. I always like to give shout outs to Be Brave Bold Robot and Straospheerius. I cranked the new Moraine CD quite a bit this winter too.

Michael Trew

What have you been listening to recently?

I found these at the Goodwill bin: Soundtrack to “Braveheart“, Greatest Hits of Sci Fi, EnyaMemory of Trees“, David Grey‘s “White Ladder“, and the Eurythmics hits.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m hoping to perform Star Being Earth Child at more festivals in the next year, writing, and perhaps record a folk album of my own.

Autumn Electric’s “Star Being Earth Child” is available from Bandcamp. Follow the band on Facebook.

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