In the spotlight today is Liam Mackenzie, a Canadian guitarist, music teacher, and audio engineer currently making waves in Montreal. Originating from Kelowna, British Columbia, Liam’s musical journey is a testament to his unwavering dedication to the craft. Since his early days, fueled by a passion for rock music, he has honed his skills on the guitar, evolving into an artist with a unique blend of talent and versatility.
In October last year, Liam put out his debut album “From a Time Ago,” from which the song “Lost Civilization” is a part of our new digital compilation—”Progstravaganza: Harmony in Complexity.”
Let’s dive into Liam’s story, exploring his musical influences, teaching experiences, and his thriving journey in the artistic landscape of Montréal, Québec.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your musical journey. How did you get started in the world of progressive rock?
I started learning how to play guitar when I was 8 years old. I loved hearing rock music as a kid, so I begged my parents for guitar lessons. I started learning more and more rock songs through guitar lessons, but a year or so into lessons, my older brother brought home the game Guitar Hero. That game opened my eyes to a huge catalogue of rock/metal music, and instantly got me wanting to learn how to play these more advanced riffs and songs. A few years later, I was given a book with some songs from the first two Guitar Hero games all tabbed out, one of those songs being “YYZ” by Rush. That intro riff had me gob-smacked as a kid a couple years into learning this instrument, I wanted to know more about Rush and their music.
A few years later I had joined the jazz band at my high school, but I couldn’t read sheet music so I took up bass. The guitar player and drummer would play YYZ before the rehearsal started, so I went home after a rehearsal and taught myself the bass part to YYZ. I soon fell in love with Rush’s discography, and from this I started learning about progressive rock and the history of the genre. That stemmed a joy for music that pushed the contemporary compositional boundaries, and re-introduced complex story-telling into music. I try to apply the same curious and experimental approaches into my own songwriting today.
Let’s dive into the featured track on the compilation. Can you share the inspiration or story behind “Lost Civilization”?
I started writing this song after hearing a soundbite from a video game. That soundbite was using the Phrygian Dominant mode, and I love love love that mode. I heard a melody in my head that echoed/mirrored the soundbite I heard, and I thought “That would be fun to play on guitar”. It turned out just how I imagined it, but I soon realized I couldn’t call a 32-bar segment with a lick in Phrygian Dominant a song. I wrote the second section of the song, and wanted to bring the listener back and forth between sections almost seamlessly. Then of course I had to put in a shredding section towards the end of the song. Listening to and learning from the great Yngwie Malmsteen had engrained in me that shredding in Phrygian Dominant is really really fun and sounds really really good!
Walk us through your creative process. How do you typically approach writing and composing music? What was your creative process like for your debut album “From A Time Ago”?
I usually start with the drum parts. Once I find a drum groove that I like, then I start jamming along with that track and play what feels right. Once that’s down; I’ll either try to write a second guitar part along with the rhythm, or try to write a melody. I often neglect bass and synth parts until the end of the writing process. Not to say their parts aren’t important, I just try to stick with the instrument I know best, and I can figure everything else out along the way.
For this album, these songs had all been written over the course of several years, the writing process has changed throughout the years. My old approach used to be from playing chords and melody at the same time, but as I’ve grown as a musician, my process has grown as well. A big part of the final push with this album was understanding that that growth and that change in process is good, and trying to eliminate the perfectionism habit I have.
Who or what are your major influences in progressive rock? How do they impact your own musical style?
Rush, Dream Theater, and Devin Townsend are my major influences in prog rock from off the top of my head. Rush has influenced my love for intricate melodic and rhythmic ideas mingling within each other. Dream Theater has influenced my joy for furthering my development and technique as a guitarist. Devin Townsend has brought me a passion for mixing and incorporating soundscapes into my music.
What challenges have you faced as an artist in the scene, and how have you overcome them?
Perfectionism has been a major struggle for me. I’ve always found little ways to try making my music the best it could possibly be, which has resulted in me putting my music on the shelf for several years. One day I said to myself: “If I continue polishing these songs, they will never be shared with the world. I’ll learn how to write better, and mix better with time, and that’s okay.” That revelation was the driving force that pushed me to release “From A Time Ago,” and what has encouraged me to continue releasing music in the future.
How do you see the scene evolving, and what role do you believe your music plays in that evolution?
I’m thinking there will be a resurgence of more patient and evocative music. I’m a big believer that music is a medium of expression; and while it’s entertaining to reach of technical perfection of guitar, emotive expression is equally (if not more) important. I’ve heard a lot of guitar solos in my time, the lines that have stayed with me are the one’s that make me feel something.
Share with us some of the most memorable moments in your musical journey so far.
A memory of mine was performing with Kiesza back when I was in Selkirk College. While working on a song with her during the dress rehearsal, the time came for me to perform my guitar solo. I was very shy and worried about making a mistake in- front of her, and she saw right through me. She walked right up to me and told me to play the solo with her standing a foot away from me. She made goofy faces and crazy arm flailing motions at me while I tried to play this solo. It took all the pressure away from playing perfectly and made me laugh, it was a moment I remember fondly when the nerves creep up before a show or a big moment in a set.
Another memorable moment of my career was back in Selkirk College again. I was working my graduating project, which was to organize and perform a 30-minute set with fellow classmates at our performance hall. One of the songs in my set was “Silver Tongued Devil” by Nick Johnston. Fast-forward to a day before my performance, Nick Johnston himself shows up at the hall while I’m rehearsing and tells me he’ll be performing the song with me. Nick is an idol of mine, so when he told me that, I almost fainted. I remember watching him while he played, and his relaxed demeanour took away a lot of the pressure I had placed on myself in that moment. Nick’s also the most nice, humble, and clam guitar player I’ve ever met, I hope to share the stage with him again in the future.
Do you have a personal favorite among your own compositions? If so, which one and why?
The one song I have the deepest connection with is “I Am Always With You.” In 2022 both of my grandparents passed away suddenly, their passing really devastated my family. I realized how fragile and special life is, so I made the incredibly difficult decision to move away from my family to pursue a career in music. I moved across the country to Montreal, not knowing how much that move would affect me. I wrote that song after a video call with my family on my birthday in 2023, it felt like an encapsulation of my feelings about losing my grandparents and moving away from my family. The title was a sentiment to say that the memory of my grandparents will always be with me, and my family’s memory of me will always be with them.
Can you give us a sneak peek into any upcoming projects or collaborations you’re working on?
I’m continuing to write more music and work towards the next album. I’m constantly recording any and all musical ideas I have; my thought is that if I write 50 okay songs, 10 of those will be pretty good. Of those 10 pretty good songs, 2-3 of them will be really good. I’m also trying to keep track of all the 16-bar melodic ideas I have clogging up my computer, so there will absolutely be another album from me for people to enjoy in the future.
What does it mean to you to be a part of our compilation? How has the experience been for you?
This is the first compilation experience I’ve ever been a part of, and it’s been really nice to answer some in-depth questions about my music! I’m looking forward to having my music be shared together with so many other amazing artists, and I’m excited to hear the other music in this compilation.
Is there a message you’d like to convey to your fans who will be discovering your music through this compilation?
Be sure to check out the rest of the album if you like “Lost Civilization,” it’s got something for everyone to enjoy!
Dream Collaboration: If you could collaborate with any artist, living or not, who would it be?
Instrument of Choice: If you had to pick one instrument (besides your primary one) to master, what would it be?
Favourite Prog Album: What’s your all-time favourite progressive rock album, and why?
“Moving Pictures” by Rush. It’s just perfect, every song on the album is amazing.
Non-Musical Influence: Are there non-musical influences that find their way into your music? (e.g., literature, art, science)
I’m often influenced by other forms of art or media, I think viewing music as a medium of expression has really allowed me to tap into my creative side when looking at a painting or reading a book. Most recently I wrote a little tune influenced by a renaissance painting “Fallen Angel” by Alexandre Cabanel.
Any final thoughts or reflections you’d like to share with our audience?
Music is a wonderful thing, I’m very fortunate to be able to write and play what I can. I’m extremely appreciative of Prog Sphere for this opportunity, and I hope everyone enjoys listening to my music!
Where can our audience find more about you and your music? (Include social media handles, website, etc.)