FRED COLOMBO: Freedom of Speech

Fred Colombo

Keyboardist Fred Colombo is known for his work with French progressive metal band Spheric Universe Experience, but he is also pursuing solo career what resulted in releasing an album entitled “Memoria” in 2013. He has big plans for 2015, both with Spheric Universe Experience and solo, and Prog Sphere talked with Fred about this. And more. 

Tell us something about your beginnings in music.

After years of classical/jazz piano training in a local music school in Nice, France, I have started playing keyboards in various local rock bands with local gigs from the age of 17. Then I co-created a progressive metal band called Spheric Universe Experience back in 2002, which is still active nowadays, with 4 albums released and tours around Europe and the USA. This is the project which offered me the most beautiful experiences so far and introduced me to the world of professional music business. I’ve also been playing in various progrock tribute bands (tributes to Pink Floyd, Genesis, Marillion…) and local cover bands.

You’ve been a part of a prog metal band Spheric Universe Experience for quite a few years now. What made you to pursue a career as a solo artist?

Well, S.U.E. is a progressive metal band. While I absolutely love this genre and keep writing progmetal material for S.U.E., my very personal style is more about ambient electro jazz, so at some point in my career, back in 2012, I decided to stop the frustration of never creating this type of music with my band and go solo! Simple as that. I needed to explore all the genres that I love and can’t play with S.U.E. – this is why my solo debut Memoria (2013) includes electro, ambient, pop, jazz, metal, house and other genres which I would never have had the opportunity to write for an S.U.E. album. I’ve also started playing solo gigs, which is a totally new experience for me! I must say I enjoyed it as much as playing with my bandmates. It’s a totally different approach of live show and entertainment. So I’m enjoying the solo experience so far, both studio and live, so much that I’m currently writing my second solo album, to be released in spring 2015!

What was the creative process for your debut solo album “Memoria” like? How long did it take you to complete the album?

Memoria actually includes recent songs that I wrote from 2012 to early 2013 from scratch, and very very old songs that I had written as a teenager, fifteen years ago, which remained unused ever since, re-recording them so they could sound like brand new. So Memoria is a sort of lifetime collection of all my solo works from teenage until now. To answer your question, I would say Memoria took one year and a half, from writing, recording, mixing, mastering to shopping labels and releasing it. But if you count the old re-recorded songs, it is really the work of a lifetime. At least 15 years of my life.

Fred Colombo - MemoriaWhat were some of the biggest challenges you faced when writing music for “Memoria”?

Stopping! I actually had 20+ songs and I was continuing to write and record. At some point I had to stop, pick the “best” songs and finalise the project, so it may be released someday! I ended up picking 16 songs – 1 hour and 18 minutes – which is still A LOT of material, but I just couldn’t remove any more songs. Another challenge was production, as I was making the album 100% alone. Mixing is a specific job. Just because you’re a musician does not mean you can mix like a professional studio engineer. So I had to work hard, doing, undoing, redoing… hours experimenting this and that. Big challenge.

How does the title of the album reflect on the material showcased on it? Where is the connection?

Memoria is a place in videogame Final Fantasy IX. I’ve been a fan of the Final Fantasy series since I was a child. By the way, the only progmetal track of the album – Midgar – is a tribute to Final Fantasy VII main city, which has been a major inspiration for me as an artist.

How did you document the music while it was being formulated?

My creation process is very spontaneous. I usually never document anything, except when writing songs about specific topics, as I do with S.U.E. for example.

Which bands or artists influenced your work for the album?

So many of them!… Would be long to name them all. Videogame composer Nobuo Uematsu, Scottish composer Craig Armstrong and all the progmetal bands and trip hop artists I’ve been listening to.

What types of change do you feel this solo material can initiate?

Not sure it will initiate “changes” – it just helps me feel better about my career! Now I know I can create my very own music, aside from my band, in complete freedom of speech, which is a very pleasant and rewarding achievement. Now if it leads me to getting new, wider opportunities in the worlds of pop music or electronic music, it will sure change my career/life. It might also change the way my S.U.E. fans look at my work as a musician. Hope they like it, even if it’s not 100% progressive.

What drove you to shape “Memoria” the way it turned out to be? How does “Memoria” reflect your journey as a musician to date?

As I told you, I am influenced by so many genres. I love all kinds of music, really. From hip hop to death metal, from slow ambient songs to epic orchestral pieces, everything. I felt the deep need to compose an album where I would be 100% free to do what I wanted to do, which is not possible in a band environment, because you have to compromise with your bandmates, with the fans, with the label… My independent solo records are the most accurate illustration of what music sounds like in my heart and soul, freed from any compromise.

Have you managed to make any new discoveries as the time passed during the creative process? Do you think that at some point of that process your writing approach changed drastically?

I’m constantly listening to new stuff. I don’t exactly remember which albums I discovered during the Memoria writing process, but it certainly influenced me.

Tell me about the complexities of creating this album?

I haven’t found complexities writing a solo album, I would rather say I enjoyed the simplicity of it! Once again, writing in a free manner, without having to compromise about anything with anyone is soooo much easier than a collective work. It was a quiet yet intense, pleasant creative process.

Although the music is completely instrumental, is there anything in particular that you are trying to “say” with the material presented on the record?

Not exactly – Memoria includes 7 instrumentals and 9 songs! Instrumentals are a minority! I’ve been doing lead vocals for the first time in my life! I had quite a lot to say, and you can read it in the lyrics

Now regarding instrumentals, I’m always trying to draw a specific picture, immerging the listener into a particular mood. It’s like paintings, you know. This is what I love about instrumentals.

What kind of gear do you use for recording your music?

Basic home-studio gear – my multiple synthesisers, a few VST instruments, a 4-string bass guitar, a mic, a sequencer, monitors… Nothing special at all, just the regular gear you need for music production. I’m considering upgrading my entire system for the next records.

As it can easily be concluded, as a solo artists you are working in a “one-man band” format. What are the benefits and drawbacks of that approach?

As I said in the previous questions, benefits are freedom of speech, personal satisfaction and achievement, full control on the creative process from start to finish. Drawbacks would be the tasks you are not trained for, like mixing, mastering and other technical steps. But again, I can see almost only positive things about working as a solo artist. I still enjoy my time with my band though!

Fred Colombo with Spheric Universe Experience

Fred Colombo with Spheric Universe Experience

What non-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music?

I would think of two things – first one is rain. Rainy weather inspires me flows of melodies and musical ideas like no other artist or element can inspire me! Especially as rain is not frequent in the French Riviera so it’s like a godsend for me when it comes! Second one is love, of course. Like almost all musicians in this world, love have inspired most of my melodies and words… I’m sorry if I sound cheesy but I’m just being 100% honest!

Are you working on any new material at the moment? 

Yes I am! I’m almost done recording my second solo album, to be released this spring 2015. I’m also writing material with my bandmates of Spheric Universe Experience for our next album. All are very exciting projects.

I mentioned Spheric Universe Experience. What are you guys up to these days?

After our latest European tour in 2013 promoting The New Eve, we dedicated 2014 to our personal projects. But now in 2015 we are getting started with the new album. Back to pure progressive metal like we used to do in the first three albums.

How do you see your music evolving in the future? What do you hope to accomplish at the end of the day?

I have absolutely no idea how my music will sound like in the future, which is quite exciting! I can’t wait to see! My goals are simple – both as a solo artist or with my band, I hope to have my music listened to and shared by as many people as possible. Creating music is a sharing process. I’m not only writing for myself, even if I love the music creation process in itself. I also hope to keep playing gigs and tours for as long as possible, because the magic happening on tour, when you meet the fans on stage and backstage, is really beautiful and rewarding. These are my only goals.

What is your view on technology in music?

It does help and open up millions of creative possibilities. Anything that may help music become richer, bigger, deeper, can only be a good thing to me. At the end of the day, what counts is what you listen to, no matter how the music producer made it, or which instrument, tool or software they used. As long as music is created with heart and soul, I don’t care if it’s made the old way or with the latest technology. As an electronic music fan and producer, I must admit that I love what technology is now bringing to music. Also, technology made it possible for small, young, unknown artists to create their music without having to book expensive studios. Thirty years ago, music creation was not open to everyone, which was quite unfair. Nowadays, it is. In a way, thank you technology! Drawback of technology in music is that too many so-called producers use it to make easy music fast, without heart and soul. This makes me feel uncomfortable. But all in all, I think technology is one of the best opportunities in the history of music.

Do you think that progressive rock as a genre that emerged in 1970’s has good prospects for the future?

I’m afraid to sound quite pessimistic here, but I don’t see successful prospects for progressive rock and progressive metal in the coming decades. Reason being that nowadays people – including hardcore music fans – want to listen to songs that bring them immediate pleasure, easy to enjoy, short songs, easy melodies, etc. The definition of progressive music implies complexity, long songs, deep atmospheres, which is in total opposition with nowadays’ moods. There will of course remain a small portion of music fans who will forever be willing and available to listen to long, complex songs, but it will be such a small amount of people that the entire prog industry will find it harder and harder to make money, record new albums, book tours… In short, I see progrock become a more and more underground genre in the future, made by and for passionate non-professional musicians. I sincerely hope that I’m wrong.

Are there any modern progressive bands that you listen to?

Honestly not much. I do check out all new bands and albums, but I can’t find that thing that makes me fall in love with their music. It seems to me that progressive music is kind of lost these years, experimenting a lot but without finding the right tunes and techniques. Maybe it’s a matter of age and generation. You know, I’m from the 90s prog generation.

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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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