M-OPUS: Back to 1978


Irish progressive rock act M-Opus are set to return with their new concept, full-length record entitled ‘Origins‘ in January. Mainman and songwriter Jonathan Casey elaborates on the group’s mission, the upcoming release, and more in a new interview for Prog Sphere.

Define the mission of M-Opus.

M-Opus is my passion project – the platform where I get to write for myself. Within that, each of our albums is ‘from’ a certain year. Our new album Origins is ‘from’ 1978, our last album was ‘from’ 1975. So the album’s instrumentation and sounds reflect what was available then. We’re gradually creating a historical discography. It also gives me a fascinating limitation when writing – you can only do what was possible at the time.

Tell me about the creative process that informed your upcoming, double album Origins and the themes it captures.

With the TV music going on, I was writing lots of short cues, which can feel very bitty artistically. So I loved the thought of writing something that was a larger piece, something significant. I first set about writing a story that I would want to watch or read, even if there was no music involved – a future-set thriller.

I studied books on physics and time, consulted with a physicist, read up on story structure, re-wrote and re-wrote until I was happy.

Once I had all that worked out, I started writing music and lyrics to tell that tale. The themes touch on redemption and destiny, the fulfillment of potential, through the story of a character who is a genius, but is his own worst enemy; a drunk gambler who is increasingly lost. That is until he’s dropped into a murder investigation.

M-Opus - Origins

What is the message you are trying to give with Origins

No message as such, but I would say the story reflects my disappointment that the world is not, in fact, getting gradually more progressive, empathic and enlightened. During my 40-year lifetime in Ireland, there has been such a great advance in the social attitude, Catholicism losing its stranglehold, the peace process, perceptions about mental health. But now I see that there will always be those same drives that resulted in the worst events in history. So in the story, 200 hundred years from now, there are still corrupt, greedy, imperious politicians, gangsters, fundamentalist psychopaths, all preying on people with addiction issues. I don’t think I would have seen things that way 20 years ago – I was more optimistic.

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

Very badly! There were project folders for writing, mixing, replacing old songs, changes of mind, guest appearances, all over the place. As it went along, I had to improve the management of it, I had no choice!

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?

Absolutely. That was always paramount to me. From the start, I would listen to song demos in sequence and judge how it flowed. Sometimes, I would throw out whole songs or replace them with new ones, because I detected a little lull or a drag on listening back. It should be like a meal, with the different flavours at different times and palate cleansers. And because it’s a long album, I needed to really love the individual songs to keep it going. Fillers were out.

Describe the approach to recording the album.

Once all the songs were demoed, I would send Mark Grist (drums) the tracks and he would record and play on them at the Drumshed, which is his studio. Then I would re-record most of my tracks over his kit performance and Colin Sullivan (guitar) would add his. The guest vocalists and actors all recorded at my place, the W5. Then an awful lot of listening back and modifications.

How long Origins was in the making?

It was 5 years in total. Progress was slower when my TV music schedule became tight, but Origins was always there. I started it before we released our last album, because I knew this project might take some time and that turned out to be true indeed.

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?

Musically, the big prog bands are an influence, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes, King Crimson, but also film music, Ennio Morricone, John Carpenter, John Williams and synth music, Vangelis and Jarre. This is also our “1978” album, just like our last record was “1975” – portraying the sonic quality of that time as much as possible. So the guitars, keys and bass reflect that era of technology. The synths on the album are from 1978, Polymoog and Yamaha CS-80 for example.

What is your view on technology in music?

Technology has changed my world musically. The fact that I can load up convincing orchestral instruments on the PC and summon up symphonic or vintage sounds is a gift. That I can record and mix so much material without going to expensive studios is incredible. Right there at home, the universe of music is open and accessible. I truly get to do what I want to do.

Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?

I do in a sense, because my aim for M-Opus is to occupy a space. I want it to be a discography, an identity. Not just ‘here are songs’, but here is a carefully tended place you visit. It’s the way I think about bands I love – a collage of memories that make up a sense of what they mean to me. That’s my aim, to curate that and be a band that I want to exist.

What are your plans for the future?

I’ve already started working on two more M-Opus albums – because you never know how long it will take. And depending on the response to Origins, we would love to play it live, but clearly, staging it is no trivial proposal. Do we try to do the whole thing properly as a show? We’ll have to see.

For more info on M-Opus and the new album visit their website and follow them on Facebook.

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