Interview with MICHAEL SCHETTER (Relocator, Generation Prog Records & Festival)

Michael Schetter

Michael Schetter plays bass in the instrumental prog fusion project Relocator, whose debut CD featured former Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian as a special guest. Michael is also the organizer of the Generation Prog Festival and concert series and the founder of Generation Prog Records.

The fifth Generation Prog live event, the Generation Prog Festival 2014 takes place on November 15th in Nürnberg’s MUZclub. Prog Sphere talked with Michael about Relocator, the festival, his latest and upcoming releases through the label, as well as progressive scene today. You can download the Progstravaganza Special – The New Generation of Prog 2014 compilation here.

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Relocator - RelocatorIt’s been almost five years since you guys released your self-titled debut in 2010. Why is it taking you that long to put another recording?

Well, it’s taken us almost 6 years to put together the first one, so maybe the long wait isn’t so unexpected. But the answer is simple: Lack of time. We all have day jobs and Stefan Artwin, who’s written most of the material for our debut, has been very busy with his own company after our album was released. And we’re not a band that rehearses regularly, we only get together before the occasional live gigs, so it’s not easy to stay focused on the music.

Are you working on any new material? Creatively speaking, do you have a vision of what direction the next Relocator recording would take?

We are. We’ve already premiered a new song live last year and Stefan has been working on other demos. As for the vision, there were talks about involving more guest musicians next time to give us a broader sound palette to work with, but nothing is set in stone at the moment. The only thing we’re certain of is that the violin will play a much bigger role this time around. It was almost an afterthought on the first album, but ever since we started playing live, we’ve been incorporating it more and more into the material. On the CD there were just 3 out of 8 tracks that featured violin, live it’s now featured on 7 out of the 9 Relocator tracks we have in our repertoire.

Derek Sherinian recorded all keyboard tracks on your debut album. Did you leave any space for him to improvise, or he just recorded parts that you previously wrote?

It was a mix of the two. Stefan‘s demos had pretty detailed keyboard parts already, in many sections it was really the keyboards that carried the song, so we needed more than just some placeholder parts. There were sections that we left rather sparse and that Derek then filled out, the obvious parts being all the solos. One of my favorite additions of his is the piano backing behind the violin solo in The Alchemist. Sometimes the choice of sounds made a huge difference, too – it was Derek‘s idea to play the chorus melody of the song Relocator with a lead sound and he developed it nicely later on. Actually, you can check out some of our demos on our website to hear how things changed after Derek got involved.

Does a full-fledged tour in the future seem as an option for Relocator?

Sadly, it’s pretty unlikely because it’s so difficult to coordinate everyone’s schedules. Maybe a few gigs in a row, but more than a week would probably be impossible. We’d love to play some gigs abroad and we came close a few times, but usually the schedules just didn’t work out. But we’ll keep trying!

Speaking of playing live, you’ve been organising concerts for quite some time now. You also organise Generation Prog festival which takes place in Nürnberg. Do you sometimes find it exhausting to engage in an adventure like this, considering that it’s bit of a risk nowadays?

Very much so.

Generation Prog 2014 poster

The next, fifth Generation Prog live event is Generation Prog Festival 2014, which takes place on November 15th at MUZclub in Nürnberg. What are your expectations from this year’s festival?

I expect lots of awesome music, a full house, a great atmosphere and many good friends. The ticket sales have already surpassed all of our previous events, so it’s looking good!

Relocator have played at every one of your live events so far. Without a new album out, how do you keep things interesting for the audience?

Well, at the first gigs we were still finding our style with the new live keyboardist Sergej Schamber, who’s been doing a fantastic job with Derek Sherinian‘s keyboard parts. Over time, the role of the violin has been extended to cover more of the melodies and even some riffs, so we were always re-arranging the material for the live gigs, adding new sections or extended intros. Last year the motto of the event was “Jazz meets Metal”, so we prepared some unusual covers – a fusion classic in Alan Pasqua‘s Proto-Cosmos, now usually associated with Allan Holdsworth, the really tricky Virgil Donati cover Native Metal and a Bulgarian folk dance (Gankino Horo) – plus a brand-new Relocator track. So half the set was stuff we’d never played before! And it will be the same this year. Not only will we be playing with an Indian guest percussionist on the Mridangam, half of our set will be covers of prog classics. And not, as you might expect, instrumental tracks – we’re celebrating our 10th Anniversary, so we wanted this to be very special. All the covers will have vocals and Paul Adrian Villarreal from Sun Caged will lend us his great voice for the evening. So even if you’re not into Relocator or instrumental prog fusion, I’m sure you’ll enjoy our set – we’re gonna turn this into a real prog party!

Other than Relocator, two out of five bands on the upcoming festival were already a part of the line-up at 2011’s edition. Why not going for a completely new line-up?

We tried to mix things up more, but with the limited number of weekend slots available at the local venues it turned out impossible to get everyone we wanted to invite to come to Nürnberg. For example, I would’ve loved to have Mekong Delta, Toxic Smile and Crystal Breed play at the festival, but the schedules just didn’t work out. In the end we invited Haken back because they’ve developed into a strong headliner in the past three years and they had a new CD coming out around that time – making for a total of three very good CD releases since the 2011 festival. They will easily be able to play a completely different set this time. And we’d been in talks with Exivious for a while – with a new drummer and a new album it seemed like they would bring enough fresh elements with them to warrant another invitation. And they were among everyone’s favorites in 2011, so why not bring them back? It’s been three years, after all!

The other two bands include Beyond the Bridge and Kristoffer Gildenlöw. Have you guys talked to do some kind of jam comprised of the members of all participating bands? I have to say that it would be really great to see it.

I’ve heard some things, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. :)

One of your other ventures, besides playing bass in Relocator and organising concerts is Generation Prog Records label, which put some of the great and top albums on quite a few year-end lists. What is the story behind running a small, independent label?

There were two basic ideas behind the launch of the label – the first was that we should use the momentum we had built up with 2011′s Generation Prog Festival for the upcoming Effloresce debut album, so we extended the Generation Prog brand and started the label which then released the CD. The other idea was to build up a nice home for future Relocator releases, which seemed not that far away at the time. It was great to find out that there was enough interest in a modern prog label to enable us to work with such great international artists as Alessandro Bertoni (USA), Circle of Illusion (Austria), Cea Serin (USA) and Jim Alfredson’s THEO project (USA).

Cea Serin - The Vibrant Sound of Bliss and DecayThe most recent Generation Prog release is Cea Serin’s second studio album “The Vibrant Sound of Bliss and Decay.” What attracted you to put out this record in particular through Generation Prog Records?

I’ve been a Cea Serin fan since the late 90s, when they were offering their music via mp3.com – I’ve always loved their mix of heavy riffs, progressive song structures and the combination of melodic and aggressive vocals. I’m one of those people who had been waiting for their 2nd album for 10 years, so when Jay mentioned that they were not going to re-sign with their previous label, I immediately got in touch with him. Stylistically they’re somewhat similar to Effloresce, who also mix heavy prog metal with clean and harsh vocals, so I thought they would be a good fit for the label. When I heard the album, I knew it would meet or even surpass the fans’ expectations, so signing them was an easy decision.

I know that you already have plans for the next GPR release. What can you tell me about it?

The next release will be a collaboration with Jim Alfredson‘s label Big O Records, the self-titled debut album from Jim’s new prog rock project THEO. It’s a great album inspired by the prog rock bands of the 70s, particularly Genesis (Jim‘s a big Tony Banks fan), but with a modern approach. As you’d expect from someone who’s known as the organist for the great modern jazz trio Organissimo, it’s a pretty keyboard-driven affair, with a wide variety of stylish keyboard sounds and very good musicians completing Jim‘s band. You can find out more about THEO and support Jim‘s pre-order campaign here:

http://pledgemusic.com/projects/theo

There are also plans for the Generation Prog festival in spring next year. Any bands that you can reveal at this point?

Not yet, but hopefully soon. As usual for us, the main challenge is to find a suitable headliner. We have more than enough fantastic smaller bands to choose from to fill up the lineup, but there aren’t too many big names that can carry such an event. Especially since we’d prefer to have it be a band that goes well with a broad array of styles. We like our instrumental prog fusion bands and the heavier side of prog, so ideally we’d like the headliner’s fans to be people who will also appreciate that stuff.

It’s great to see that you are a part of many different ventures and that you are trying hard to promote the progressive music. At the end of the day, what do you hope to accomplish?

I want to give talented modern prog bands a platform to present their music, whether it’s on stage at the festival or on CD with my label. Being a musician myself, I know very well how hard it is to get decent gigs – and being a prog fan, I know how few of these bands ever make it to our part of Germany. In the end the goal is to have the Generation Prog brand associated with high-quality modern prog.

Cover photo courtesy of Lutz Diehl

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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