An Interview with Jay Lamm of CEA SERIN

Cea Serin

Led by visionary frontman/bassist/keyboardist Jay Lamm, Cea Serin blend the anything-goes experimental elements of bands like Pain of Salvation, while perfectly blending the heart and presence of songwriters like Sarah McLachlan and Yanni, and adding effective elements such as accompaniment by unique sounds and textures (often courtesy of clips from renowned dramatic films). It has been 9 long years since fans have seen a new Cea Serin release, but despite this the consensus has been that it was well worth the wait. “The Vibrant Sound of Bliss and Decay” is Cea Serin’s first release on Generation Prog records, and is the perfect follow-up to 2005’s “…Where Memories Combine…” while also serving as the perfect introduction for new fans. Prog Sphere recently had the pleasure of speaking with Jay Lamm about the group’s long absence, the writing/recording process, and an inside look into the frontman’s vision for the band.

It’s been 10 years since “Where Memories Combine.” The liner notes indicate there were set backs, struggles, errors, etc. Would you care to fill us in on a bit of the events that have taken place within the band over the past decade?

Sure. I’ve always been kind of dreading this question because of everything that took place (laughs). First off, we started recording this album like as soon as Where Memories Combine came out. So we started working on it, and we had Rory [Faciane] in the band, our drummer. It was probably a couple months after the first CD came out. So this was the first time we ever tried to record live drums. Keith [Warman, guitars] and I had been in a previous band before and used live drums but this the first time with Cea Serin that we worked with live drums. So we recorded some stuff, experiments and things and then we kind of listened to it and realized we needed to record it again. We recorded it again and decided the studio wasn’t working for us so we ended up having to record for a third time. In between the second and the third time hurricane Katrina happened. Rory lived in Louisiana, about 70 miles from where Keith and I lived and his house got pretty much destroyed so he ended up deciding to move to Nashville. So it took a while to record the drums in Nashville, but we finally got the drums the way we wanted them to be. Then came the process of recording the guitars, and that was what really held up things the most. Keith would record the guitars, and then wouldn’t like them, so he would re-record all of the guitars again. He would get better guitar tones and then re-record them all over again. It would just be back and forth between his studio, and my studio trying to get this good guitar sound. In the process of him trying to get his guitars recorded I did a solo record for planetarium use, like a new-age album, then did some movie stuff and some TV stuff, like orchestral stuff for locally produced films. Louisiana has this burgeoning film industry, and there are tax breaks for filmmakers so a lot of filmmakers are coming down here to make films. So I was busy with that, and waiting for Keith to do his guitar parts. Then I landed this gig with a Cirque company called Cirque Dreams. It’s kind of like an American-based Cirque du Soleil company. I toured with them for about 2 years. Keith was there as well so that was 2 years out of our lives there and we on the road with that for a while. So overall it was a lot of waiting around for the guitars to get just right, and after we had that I went ahead and did bass and the vocals…I guess at a reasonable rate. I was always kind of working under the assumption that we had a deal with Nightmare records, and then that kind of didn’t happen. I had to then scramble and find another label. The mixing process took a long time too. So hopefully the next record won’t take so long. It was not fun. I mean for 10 years it was stressing me out, and that was not a good place.

Where does the planned upcoming release, “The World Outside,” fit in to this story? Why did you feel a stop-gap release was the best move for the band and how did this idea come about?

The idea kind of came from – remember that album Nevermore put out called In Memoriam – it was like an EP after their self-titled debut, and it came out really quickly. That came out, and then the second actual album came out. The thing about this album is that we were able to able to get Where Memories Combine, that was really based off of the demo that we did called The Surface of All Things, it was like the first 4 tracks. And off of those tracks we got signed. We still needed to fill some things in so I was working on “Scripted Suffering” and “Into the Vivid Cherishing” came from a previous demo so the thought was to add those songs and it would be more than enough. So we kind of finished “Scripted Suffering” and then kind of slapped in “Into the Vivid Cherishing” with updated recorded parts. At that time I was still working on a bunch of other songs like “What Falls Away.” So that song along with a bunch of other songs that we had didn’t quite fit in with the debut CD, and I was already kind of racking my brain to decide what I wanted to do with The World Outside. So the debut CD and The World Outside were not going to be very different, but they did have their own vibe to them. So I had all these other songs, and I thought it would be kind of cool to do an album that would have some songs people are always asking me about that I never really released, like they were on the old demo tapes that we did, “Holy Mother” and “The Illumination Mask.” People were always asking me about those and I would send them copies, but I never liked the production on them. So I thought it would be kind of cool to redo those old songs with a live drummer, which was another thing people were always asking for. We re-recorded those old songs and I finished “What Falls Away” and “The Victim Cult,” and I always wanted to do that Sarah McLachlan song my way. I thought a cover song would be a good bridge between some old songs and some new songs, and then the entire thing would be a great transitional album going into the next album. So it’s not really an EP as much as it is a logical progression from the first album into the next one. It’s all going to make sense I guess in the end.

Cea Serin - The Vibrant Sound of Bliss and DecayLet’s dive into the new album, The Vibrant Sound of Bliss and Decay. What are the standout or proudest moments for you on this record?

That’s a tough one for me, because I really like how “What Falls Away” came about. I always wanted to do a long form song, but all of the long form songs I’d heard never really had a discernable chorus in them. I wanted a long song with a very distinct chorus. So I decided to do a long form song, but have two choruses that has kind of two different sides of the story. I thought that was kind of cool, and I’m really happy with how it came out and there’s a memorable hook in there and it kind of takes you on a whole journey. And I really like what Rory did as far as the drums go. What I had programmed on the drum machine before was okay, but Rory really did a great job bringing everything together so it was really night and day from my original demo version.

I thought “The Victim Cult” was kind of cool, because I had kind of written myself into a corner with that song. I always had goals for that song where I wanted to do these atypical key changes and tempo changes and stuff that would usually not make sense and people kind of shy away from. So I wanted to do that, and try to have it make sense. For the longest time Keith hated that song. Once everything was done, everything was recorded and all the vocals were on there the vision was finally realized. And I think Keith finally came around to liking it.

The two opening tracks, “Holy Mother” and “The Illumination Mask,” I’m happy people finally get a chance to hear those songs, and they are two of my absolute favorite songs to play live because they’re just heavy all the way through, intense, and I like the choruses to them.

You guys have included a brilliant cover of “Ice” by Sarah McLachlan. For the readers who are less familiar with you guys, what are some other albums or musicians that really inspire you these days?

For me personally, I kind of grew up listening to Rust in Peace-era Megadeth, and things like Anacrusis and Dream Theater, and then I got in to things like Carcass and At the Gates, and black metal and stuff. But I always loved other things like Yanni, and of course Sarah McLachlan, and even the Shrapnel records recording artists like Richie Kotzen and Cacophony, and other shredder guitar stuff. Keith was kind of in to the same thing as well, but also into guys like Joe Satriani, Vinnie Moore, more guitar hero type stuff, as well as artists like Jim Croce, Journey, and Barry Manilow. I mean I also kind of grew up with the same. So we had the common ground there with similar metal, as well as similar non-metal music. Rory, I’m not quite sure, he always kind of grew up listening to a variety of things. He’s really in-tuned to drumming and followed Terry Bozzio, Mike Portnoy, guys like that. So we have a similar sphere of influence.

I want to touch on the writing and recording process for this record. Are all of the parts demoed yourself and presented to the rest of the band, or were there opportunities for everyone to get together and collaborate on ideas?

I always complete the song first, minus the vocals. I do an instrumental demo, because the vocals can always change slightly. I typically write with the guitar or the bass and I have a Kurzweil keyboard that I use to do the drum machine. I write all the songs from the beginning to the end, and once the entire product is done that’s when I share it with everybody else. Once I start to record the vocals that’s when they actually hear the song with vocals.

The CD booklet for this release is packed with information. You included not only lyrics, but commentary. Many artists cringe at the idea of having to interpret their art, and some flat out refuse. What are your true feelings about this, and do you think it’s something you’ll continue to do?

I always try to steer people in the right direction when it comes to what the songs are about, because when you watch old episodes of Headbanger’s Ball, Ricki Rachtman would ask bands what certain songs are about and 9 times out of 10 the artist would say, “Well we really want the song to be interpreted by the listener.” I never wanted that. I always had a very distinct idea of what the songs are about, and what the lyrics are about so I don’t want people to misinterpret things. I’ve had my songs misinterpreted before, but I have made efforts to try and steer people in the right direction. I’ve always been a fan of DVD commentaries, and I always though that was kind of interesting about there being certain happy mistakes, or certain recording mistakes that popped up, but now it’s on the album for real. Also what certain lyrics are about, the little turns of phrases and the little things that popped up on this one song and they pop up on another song – I always thought that was kind of interesting. I’ve always liked adding a little commentary about what the songs are about. I hope it will kind of give people a more intimate relationship with the songs if they know what I was thinking about at the time when I wrote them.

Cea Serin

With that in mind, I actually have a couple questions about the lyrics. The Victim Cult is an amazing track. Is there a particular historical context, or news story that inspired the lyrics?

The song kind of deals with what I’ve been seeing on the news recently. And even over the decades, the things that have been going a certain way. It seems there are people that you just can’t reason with and who will readily take the role of the victim, because they don’t want to do anything for themselves and they have to have things done for them. This can be anyone, people that you work with or people in society or someone that you’re in a relationship with. These are people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions and refuse to take responsibility for themselves. And when they screw up in life and put themselves in a bad situation they will readily say that it wasn’t their fault, but that they were a victim of something else, when it’s obvious that they put themselves in these situations. And I think we all know people that are like that. No matter how much you try to convince them that You did this, You can get out of this if you just do x, y, and z, and they just don’t want to listen to it. For me personally I know two people that are like that so that song is sort of my response to those people and how to deal with them and just not have them in you life.

What Falls Away is the standout for me on this record, as I imagine it will be for most fans. In the liner notes you make a profound statement about the story the family is going through. Can you elaborate on what you’re saying there? After repeat listens in seems to me that you are encouraging listeners to stop and cherish the moments we have with our loved ones, as opposed to fleeting things that will pass away.

Yeah, I would agree with that. There’s a part in the song where the certain person chooses to die and there’s sort of that fleeting moment where they sort of reach back out, and they realize there’s no going back from this moment. So the storyline with the mother and the father sort of taking for granted certain things that they missed out on in the development of their children. I think about the movie, The Virgin Suicides, which I think was what I was watching at the time. It’s a very different storyline, but there’s a part in the movie where they were having this party in the basement I think…it’s been years since I’ve seen this movie…and this kid with downs syndrome is there with them. They were all kind of hanging out and they asked this kid with downs syndrome to sing a song for them. As soon as he was done they just kind of left him, and so the kid didn’t really understand why he had all this attention for a second and now he has none. So it kind of involves that as well, there’s kind of a lot of aspects to that song, but kind of going back to what you were saying before, yes, you don’t quite know what you have until it’s gone.

Many of the classic elements from Where Memories Combine are present on this release, including film dialogue samples. I think I recognized Memento and The Shawshank Redemption in “What Falls Away.” What was your inspiration to incorporate this element, and Would you ever be willing to share a list of samples used?

Well the thing is, I think I’ve forgotten most of them. When I go back and listen to Where Memories Combine and I don’t remember where I got them from. Mostly I’ll record them off a DVD. But there’s an element of background noise to it. Sometimes it is the words that they’re saying in the dialogue that I like, but it’s also the performance and pacing of how they say it. Like there’s a sort of rhythmic quality to what they’re saying that I like, as well as the sort of emotion that they have in that certain performance. There’s a part in “What Falls Away” that I took from the movie Memento where Guy Pierce has lost his short-term memory and he’s kind of thinking back at the memories that he does have and he doesn’t quite know if he’s imagining things or what. That whole scene there I like the way that he was talking, I like the pacing of it, and so that’s why I wanted to include it in that particular song. Sometimes I take it down into the mix a lot so that you can’t really tell what they’re saying and it’s just the human voice that I liked in it. So there’s an element of that, and it’s kind of like when you’re watching a movie and you’re watching a scene unfold, but there’s also background music to it as well. So it’s kind of the reverse of that. There’s the music at the front and then there’s kind of this background noise I guess that I put in there. I never questioned why I did it, to be honest with you. I’ve always kind of liked it, and I tried it one time and it had a certain profound effect on me, so I’ve always just kind of liked the way that sounded.

Are you always watching films on high alert for sample potential?

Sometime I’ll just hear something, like if I’m working on a song and there’s a line that has a significant ring to it I’ll kind of keep that in mind and I’ll copy it for later. I haven’t done that in quite a while, because the writing for The World Outside has been done, as far as the demo process, so it has everything that’s kind of in it, and I’ve forgotten a lot of what I put in it. And the stuff I’m working on now I don’t really use the film samples, because I’m not writing for Cea Serin right now, I’m writing for something else. I imagine I’ll continue to do it if I keep doing Cea Serin, but you know, sometimes I’ll just hear a certain line and like it. Last night I was watching the first episode of House of Cards and the character said he loved his wife more than a shark loves blood, and I thought that was a really cool line. I’m not sure I will use that, because there are certain lines that are too spot-on with a movie, like you would know exactly where it comes from and it would take you out of the song. I hope that doesn’t really happen too much with Cea Serin. I mean, I’ve taken things out once movies have become more popular. I think that’s kind of the case with Gladiator. I’ve used that line and now I kind of regret it, because everyone knows now that it comes from that film.

Cea Serin

What do you guys have in the works to help further promote the album? Any show or tour plans?

No show or tour plans right now, but I never quite know what may come up. I wouldn’t mind doing some festival shows, but I might have to find myself another guitar player for the second guitar parts. As of right now I think we’re just kind of plugging it through magazines and online airplay and websites, and hopefully word of mouth. I’m hoping people pass this along. But as far as touring goes, I don’t know if we’re popular enough to merit the finances required for us to tour. I’d love to get over to Europe and play, but I just don’t know if it’s financially viable at this point.

Even though the release for The Vibrant Sound of Bliss and Decay was very recent, I still have to ask if you guys have a release timeframe in mind for The World Outside.

No, not really. I don’t really have an idea at this point, but like I was saying I already recorded the scratch drum tracks, the drum machine tacks, the keyboard tracks, and all the samples and stuff. I’ve done all that so at this point it’s kind of up to Keith to record his guitars, and at that point Rory will do his drums and then I’ll dial in a good bass tone to fit his drums. Then we’ll do the vocals and stuff. Lastly, there’s the mixing process. So at this point I can’t really say.

Any last thoughts on the new album you’d like to share with the readers?

It’s been 10 years, and a long time coming. We’ve worked really, really hard on this record, and I think it really shows. I think it really encompasses the band, and I think it’s a really great starting off point if you’re in to progressive metal and want to check out this particular band. I hope people want to check it out if they want to hear something different. I think it’s a very different sounding album if they want to kind of deviate from the norm of what’s traditionally offered with progressive metal and death metal. If that’s what fans are looking for then they should definitely check out this disc. It has pretty much something for anybody.

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