Soaring from the sonic landscapes of Connecticut, Notion Blue isn’t just a band; they’re sonic architects sculpting the future of prog rock. After paying tribute to their late bandmate with a debut that echoed with emotion, they’re back with “Out Of Exile,” a concept album set to drop digitally on March 1st, 2024.
Dive into a kaleidoscope of influences ranging from the ethereal realms of Peter Gabriel to the raw power of Tool. Pre-orders for the new album are live on Bandcamp, teasing a musical voyage that transcends the boundaries of the Biblical Old Testament. Picture Luke Chase on vocals, guitar, and bass; Max Barbi on vocals and keys; and Gabe Chase on vocals and drums—this trio isn’t just making music; they’re crafting a sonic saga that mirrors the trials of our time, ending in a crescendo of hope. Buckle up for a ride with Notion Blue, following their appearance on the “Progstravaganza: Harmony in Complexity” compilation.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your musical journey. How did you get started in the world of progressive rock/metal?
GABE: Luke and I have loved prog since we were teenagers. When I was 16, a high school classmate showed me Dream Theater’s Scenes from a Memory. That album blew our minds and opened our world to what music could be and we’ve been in love with progressive rock and metal since. Dream Theater was our gateway and we’ve also fallen in love with bands like Neal Morse Band, Porcupine Tree, Haken, Symphony X, Karnivool, Tool, and TEMIC (shout out to Eric Gillette). When we decided to start writing music, I think we basically all wanted to go in that direction.
MAX: I became totally enamored with odd time signatures pretty early in my teens. I think Porcupine Tree was my first prog exposure to it, and I was hooked from there.
Let’s dive into the featured track on the compilation. Can you share the inspiration or story behind “King of the Locusts”?
LUKE: “King of the Locusts” is the first song we wrote together as a band back in 2018. We then set it aside to work on the material for the first album knowing we would want to feature it on the second album. After the first album was finished, we couldn’t wait to get back together to start recording “King of the Locusts”, it’s our favorite. In this album, we explore themes in the Biblical Old Testament and that song was written as an amalgam of all the evil leaders throughout that period of history.
Walk us through your creative process. How do you typically approach writing and composing music? What was your creative process like for your upcoming album “Out of Exile” in comparison to your full-length debut “The Son, The Liar, and the Victor”?
LUKE: We like to keep demoing a song over and over before we feel the arrangement is ready to record. So I might record scratch guitars and vocals to send an idea around and we’ll each give input on the song structure. Once the song structure is finalized, we’ll track our parts. We had fewer sessions together in person to revise songs on this album than our debut. But we started with the same vision for what the concept would be about and that gave us a north star to guide the songwriting process. We had a lyrical/musical arc mapped out that helped us stay focused and contribute ideas that we all felt best served that concept.
Who or what are your major influences in progressive rock/metal? How do they impact your own musical style?
MAX: For my part on keys, while I do some lead lines, I often get to enjoy sculpting the sound of the song in more subtle ways. From that perspective I really appreciate Richard Barbieri, especially in Porcupine Tree, and the moodiness of Pineapple Thief’s music.
GABE: My drumming is heavily influenced by prog drummers like Mike Portnoy, Gavin Harrison and Danny Carey. They’re all just drumming gods in prog and progressive metal and I’ve learned so much just by listening to them. I don’t have crazy chops like those guys though, so I also lean heavily into the groove and feel of what I’m playing. Sometimes, my drumming is more influenced by amazing non-prog drummers like Chad Smith, Jeff Porcaro or Matt Cameron. I like the sense of groove and personality they add to their projects, and it inspires me to try to discover my own creative voice when I track a song. When I am tracking drums for a song, my intention is to play what I feel fits the song best, and how to put the best mixture of feel and precision I can to that.
LUKE: Vocally, some of my biggest influences include Dustin Kensrue, Ian Kenny, Maynard James Keenan, and Pete Loeffler. I’m not a shredder, so I really love guitarists who are songwriters first and foremost. Guys like Steven Wilson. He’s probably my biggest prog influence overall.
What challenges have you faced as an artist in the scene, and how have you overcome them?
GABE: The challenge we face is the double edged sword of being a DIY indie band in such a democratized musical world with the internet. On the one hand, it’s never been easier to produce and release your own music without the need for a label or middleman. On the other hand, music is not our full time job and we are not experts in the industry. The challenges include constantly figuring out how to improve our craft, how to market our material, and how to manage the band on a limited budget.
I wouldn’t say we’ve overcome any major obstacle in the industry because we are minnows in the industry who make our own music. What I will say is that we are deeply and profoundly grateful for every chance we have to create something new and share it with the world.
How do you see the scene evolving, and what role do you believe your music plays in that evolution?
GABE: The scene is highly digital currently and based on streaming platforms, which are not a great source of revenue for the artist but they are a great opportunity for exposure. I don’t know if I can predict anything in the scene, but we hope to see a return to more forms of analog/physical media for musical artists. I think the prog world is more invested in physical media like CDs, Vinyl, and merch, and this kind of engagement is helpful for indie bands.
Share with us some of the most memorable moments in your musical journey so far.
GABE: I think for us, any time the three of us can be in one place together either creating our music or just hanging out, it is a special moment. We have busy day jobs and families, so we relish any opportunity to be together, whether that’s us recording, shooting a music video, or just hanging out. A few months ago, we all got together, ate pizza, got out our guitars and just started jamming Peter Gabriel songs together and that was a special moment for us.
MAX: I also love the process of writing when we do it together. We’re all bringing our best ideas, the best we can imagine and somehow when we work off each other’s ideas the result is better than we imagined. Really more than the sum of our parts, which is special. Putting an album cover to our first finished album was a cool milestone, a complete and finished work. My wife also painted it!
LUKE: We’re all dads with day jobs, so for us to hit any milestone or get any response to our music is exciting. We just filmed a new music video that turned out better than we were all expecting, and that was a memorable moment together.
Do you have a personal favorite among your own compositions? If so, which one and why?
GABE: I think “King of the Locusts” is a favorite for us. It is the first song we ever wrote as a band. We wrote it together in 2018, but decided to write an album in honor of Max’s brother Johnny first, so we put it on the back burner. Through the years, we made little tweaks to the song structure here and there, and we are ecstatic to finally be releasing it. When Max first found that synth growler sound for the breakdown riff, we really felt like we had something special.
MAX: I agree about “Locusts”. Heard it too many times over 5 years and I’m still not tired of it. I like the balance it strikes with dynamics and variety- I love the groove of the chorus, the tension and the breakdown riff, and then the relief in the instrumental bridge which is like a mix of “Mission Impossible” and “The Mummy” vibes, and then a big old outro. It feels well rounded and fun.
LUKE: We all have a soft spot for “Locusts”, it’s our favorite. My other favorite on the album would be our second single (soon to be released) and the album opener, “In The Silence”. It’s a little theatrical in all the ways we like, with dramatic shifts in dynamics.
Can you give us a sneak peek into any upcoming projects or collaborations you’re working on?
MORE MUSIC! We’re all prolific writers, so we have album 3 mapped out and written already. We’re planning to start recording on that sometime this year. We had a blast filming two music videos by ourselves and plan to do even more for album 3. We would also love to have physical media options for album 3 as well.
What does it mean to you to be a part of our compilation? How has the experience been for you?
MAX: It’s very humbling and exciting to have our work listened to by so many and to have a spotlight in your compilation. I think we would all write music together even if no one listened, but it’s like living out a dream in our own small way.
Is there a message you’d like to convey to your fans who will be discovering your music through this compilation?
MAX: We hope you listen to the rest of the album! Like so many artists we made the album as a cohesive piece of work. While we picked a particular subject for this album we really feel the themes, like hope and redemption, will resonate with so many people.
If you could collaborate with any artist, living or not, who would it be?
GABE: Probably Peter Gabriel. He has such an incredible ability to write songs and lyrics that are emotionally resonant. Additionally, he surrounds himself with amazing musical collaborators that always elevate the songs he writes.
MAX: Composer Michael McGlynn is a huge inspiration to me. I’m sure I’d embarrass myself but I’d probably pick him.
LUKE: Steven Wilson, because I love learning about the producing side just as much as the songwriting side.
If you had to pick one instrument (besides your primary one) to master, what would it be?
GABE: I play the guitar as a second instrument and I would love to have a much higher mastery of it than I do. Hopefully I will in the future.
MAX: I have a secret love for the Irish flute.
What’s your all-time favorite progressive rock or metal album, and why? One album that you always return to.
MAX: My general style has changed but I still love Fragile by Yes.
GABE: I’m going to cheat on this one because there are too many good albums. I consistently come back to Porcupine Tree’s Deadwing and Neal Morse Band’s The Similitude of a Dream. They are completely different albums but they are both amazing in their own way.
LUKE: Dream Theater’s Train of Thought or Steven Wilson’s Hand.Cannot.Erase.
Are there non-musical influences that find their way into your music? (e.g., literature, art, science)
MAX: I love history, seeing how the struggles and joys of people long gone are still universal. I think that makes its way into the music.
GABE: I am impassioned by whatever I am currently reading. Literature is big for me, whether it’s the classics or even modern fiction and nonfiction. Good books inspire my creative direction. I echo Max’s idea of history in that lyrically, we have always been more concerned with timeless truths in our songwriting. I’m not as interested in current trends as I am in the existential questions people have been asking throughout time.
LUKE: I love screenwriting and filmmaking, so there’s a fair amount of crossover between both mediums of storytelling.
Any final thoughts or reflections you’d like to share with our audience?
GABE: We’re really grateful we get a chance to create music that anyone might connect to. If you find our music/lyrics true or resonant, that means the world to us! Thank you for considering our music given all of the things you could be doing in your busy life!
Where can our audience find more about you and your music?
LUKE: Preorder the album on Bandcamp.
Follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
Pre-save the album on Spotify.