A COSMIC TRAIL: Pure Freedom

A Cosmic Trail

“A Cosmic Trail is an instrumental band that composes haunting and outstanding music influenced by elements from rock, prog, metal, jazz, folk and soundtracks. Combined and interweaved with beautiful melodies, stirring rhythms and lots of twists and changes all this creates a very unique and distinctive atmosphere.” This is how the band describes themselves. It may be sounding a bit pretentious, but once you turn the music on everything they say comes to the realization.

With two albums released under their belt, A Cosmic Trail’s determination to capture the organic sound finds the band exploring the new territories with the 2013′s album II: Mistral.

Prog Sphere talked to the band’s guitarist and main composer Markus Ullrich, who also handles guitar duties in a power/progressive metal band Lanfear.

Can you tell us something more about the A.C.T. beginnings?

I was always very much into instrumental music. For example I’m maybe the biggest fan of the earlier Mike Oldfield you can imagine. So what can I say? It’s in my blood. Of course my basics are metal but the roots are also somewhere else, I think. I always had ideas for some instrumental pieces but there never was a chance to really work on it. When I decided to build up a small home studio everything suddenly became so easy and I simply started working. A Cosmic Trail has nothing to do with all those Post Rock bands which came up in the last few years. Maybe some of them where an activator to actually record my stuff but not really an influence musically spoken.

Contrast the differences in approach between the 2010′s debut The Outer Planes and 2013′s II: Minstral.

Oh, it’s called Mistral, by the way. No Jethro Tull in here. [laughs]

I have to admit that I’ve been listening to Tull prior the interview. [laughs]

When I started working on the debut there really was no plan. It was more a “just let it out” thing. I wrote everything in about 4 weeks and very spontaneously. It was all about the melody while I didn’t pay that much attention to the rhythm stuff behind. Mistral is more rhythmic with more interesting patterns and it was much more complicated to compose everything. I also didn’t want to repeat myself so there were lots of good ideas I dropped simply because I thought they were too typical and could also stand on the debut.

II: MistralThere are plenty of different elements threaded through the Cosmic Trail’s music ranging from jazz, folk, metal, prog… Where all of these come from?

I listen to all kinds of music, that’s it. I’m a big music fan and a collector and there’s nothing better than discovering new stuff. A Cosmic Trail is pure freedom. I can do whatever I want and there are no limitations. I don’t write for an audience, it’s pure egoism.

I understand that II: Mistral represents a sort of something new and way more different than the 2010′s debut. What was your goal with this record?

I wanted to go one step further and try out more extreme stuff. The debut was very beautiful while II. Mistral has beautiful moments but also parts and songs with a different approach. It’s more demanding for the listener, I think.

Comparing the two albums you released, I would say that there is more layered sound on Mistral. It’s also way more organic.

Yes, you’re right, it’s more organic. I attached more importance to the basics. I wrote the rhythm stuff before the melodies while on the debut often the melodies existed and I put more simple rhythms behind everything just to support the melody. There’re not that many tracks, most of the stuff could be played in a live situation while “The Outer Plans” sometimes had four layered guitar tracks.

What is it in particular that made new album be a special in its own way?

I think the listener has to decide. To me it’s more mature, more “art”, if you can say so. I also think that the intro or a track like “Thwart Progress” are more audacious because it’s something you won’t expect when you know the debut. The overall sound and feeling in my opinion is totally different.

Can you say that you had the luxury of time and technology on your side when working on Mistral?

Yes, definitely. I don’t need that much technology to compose but I took all the time that was necessary. I never worked as hard on an album as I did on this one. Some tracks changed and changed and sometimes I thought it would never end. There are at least 40 min. of material I didn’t use though it was really good. It was a kind of challenge to throw away stuff you would normally use.

I suppose that you had all the arrangements and song structures prior entering the studio. How much the album’s structure changed during the recording process?

I would say 99% sound exactly as my demos. Of course Richie added the keys, our mixer Andy also had some ideas and Alex played different bass parts than I did on the demo but the structures are the same. If you’d listen to the demos it’s more or less the same, except for the sound.

Klaus Engl of 7for4 recorded drums for II: Mistral in his D’Engl studios. Did he bring any new ideas that shaped the album’s final structure? What can you tell about his impact on the album.

I programmed the drums on the demo just for his orientation and told him that he was free to do whatever he wants to do. Most of the stuff he played is based on the demos and he played similar patterns. He brought in a kind of freshness, though. You never can program drums the way that they really come to life. You need a flesh and blood drummer to achieve that. He’s a fantastic musician and though he didn’t change that much it sounds way better. He’s great in doing all those tom and cymbal gimmicks and that stuff he played totally different and with lots of feeling, twists and turns.

II: Mistral on vinyl

II: Mistral was released on CD and vinyl, as well as the digital download. The vinyl edition comes with A Cosmic Trail guitar pick. We are witnessing tremendous popularity of LP’s in last two years. How do you see it? Why did you choose this format to release the album?

I love vinyl. I think vinyl is the past and the future for all collectors. I bought only CDs for maybe 20 years but within the last few months it’s maybe 70% vinyl. I simply don’t know why I stopped buying vinyl years ago. I mean there are download codes so you can have everything on your hard drive so you have it in CD quality if you want to. Vinyl looks much better than a simple CD, it’s just classy. I’m 100% sure that the vinyl sales will increase dramatically in the next few years.

How does the album cover for II: Mistral depict the overall atmosphere of the soundscapes?

That’s something each listener has to decide for his or her own. I think it fits perfectly and I loved this picture immediately when I saw it years ago and absolutely wanted to use it as a cover. It inspired me to write “A Ghostly Whisper” so for me this song is the soundtrack to the artwork.

Which song off the two releases you put out so far would you chose as a track that sums up what A Cosmic Trail is about?

That’s a hard question. I think “In Ertia” is a kind of bridge between “The Outer Planes” and “II: Mistral”, though I wouldn’t say it sums up everything. The tracks are way too different to just name one track for that.

Given the fact that A Cosmic Trail is an instrumental band, do you think that it’s in some way harder for fully instrumental records to receive desired attention comparing to albums that include vocals?

Yes and no. Years ago instrumental music was pretty much dead while nowadays more and more bands come up and don’t use vocals at all. I think there’s a market for everything, it’s just not always that easy to find it. A Cosmic Trail somehow falls between the cracks. A typical prog rock/metal fan is extremely focused on vocals and it’s a totally different way listening to music without a singer. The typical post rock fan maybe can have problems with A Cosmic Trail because it has much more parts than all those post rock bands who sound more or less the same. It’s a different way of composing with totally different influences. It’s still more about structures and not just only slightly evolving soundscapes.

How would you describe your music to someone who did not hear it before? What non-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music? 

I always describe it as something from everything with melody but without vocals I’m a big movie fan and I constantly read so this surely has an impact but I can’t really define it. Landscapes have an impact. Sometimes I see them for real, sometimes just in my mind. The seasons also have an impact, so maybe it’s everything and nothing.

Name five records that directly inspired your work with A Cosmic Trail.

That is almost impossible. Directly inspired sounds accurately defined and this simply is not the case. So I name you five albums which cross my mind when I think of my own music “right now”.

Mike Oldfield – Five Miles Out
Mike Oldfield – Ommadawn
Yes – Close to the Edge
Angelo Badalamenti – Music from Twin Peaks
Clannad – Legend

Where do you see A Cosmic Trail in the future?

This really depends on the sales, I have to say. This sounds superficial, I know. Though I am able to arrange and compose everything it still costs a lot of money to mix and master everything and I also paid for the CD and vinyl pressings. Vinyl isn’t very cheap, you have to know. The first album is completely sold out and when I covered the expenses of “II: Mistral” there’s also a chance for a third album. I already recorded some ideas but work on other projects at the moment.

Do you have plans for any live performances sometime soon?

This would be something I’d really love to do but the effort would be enormous. We would need some serious offers and maybe more gigs in a row to make it work and I don’t think that the chances are that big.

Markus Ullrich with Lanfear

Besides A Cosmic Trail, you also play guitar in progressive/power metal band Lanfear. What are you guys up to these days?

We’ll enter studio at the end of this week and begin with the recordings for our yet untitled, seventh album.

What advice might you give to other musicians, or otherwise yet-undiscovered artists wanting to create some good work?

Be open minded, self-critical and put 100% in everything you do.

Buy II: Mistral from Bandcamp.

A Cosmic Trail on the web:

http://www.acosmictrail.com/

www.facebook.com/acosmictrail

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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