THE ARISTOCRATS: Boing! Interview!

Marco Minnemann, Bryan Beller and Guthrie Govan of The Aristocrats

Multi-national power trio The Aristocrats have just just embarked on the extensive world tour promoting their second album titled “Culture Clash”. With one date behind them, the band is more than ready to bring their distinctive sound on the road for the next four months.

With album garnering rave reviews and reaching tops on many year-end lists (including Prog Sphere’s readers poll), the trio comprised of Bryan Beller on bass, Guthrie Govan on guitar and Marco Minnemann on drums succeeds in achieving their main goal – clashing different elements while keeping the distinctive Aristocrats sound.

We teamed up with bassist Bryan for an interview, discussing the new album and the running tour.

It seems that you guys don’t take yourselves that much seriously when composing for The Aristocrats. What I’m trying to say is that the music feels more entertaining and more enjoyable, unlike some other artists of similar genre orientation who focus mostly on technical side. What is your way of approaching a creating process of an Aristocrats record?

We all actually do it in isolation from each other, because we all write and complete our own demos ourselves before presenting them to the other guys. But we’ve all chosen to have fun with this, as opposed to trying to be “the most serious technical band in the world!”, because, really, who wants to have to live up to that every time you go onstage? Music is supposed to be fun – we all agree on that, and that just shows up in the writing and the execution somehow.

Originally The Aristocrats was intended to be an one-off live show for the Winter NAMM event back in January 2011. But after the great response you received with that performance you decided to keep on. How did your style come together; was it a matter of discussing musical direction, or did it converge naturally as a result of jamming?

It was a combination of our playing live together over time and, I think more crucially, our common influences. We’re all the same age, and as we started spending more time together, we realized we grew up listening to a lot of the same bands: Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, lots of classic rock and also classic rock and jazz fusion. Because we had that shared background, we didn’t really need to discuss a lot of things – they just happened naturally.

Culture Clash album coverAll of you are experienced in working with different genres what reflects on your work with The Aristocrats. Especially on your second album “Culture Clash”, the fusing of different elements is more emphasized. Where does your authentic sound come from?

Any authentic sound we have comes from what we listen to. That shows up naturally in our playing. I think it does for everyone. When it comes to music, like food, you are what you eat, so to speak.

With your hectic schedules, how did the writing for “Culture Clash” go? How long did it take you to complete the process? Speaking of which, what are your writing methods?

As mentioned earlier, we write in isolation, create full demos, and then present to the band. Marco can write a song a day – he’s just gifted like that. Guthrie and I take much, much longer! But we can all play all the necessary instruments well enough to get the demo done (with programmed drums in the case of Guthrie and me), so we can all get the idea of the song across, and then it becomes an Aristocrats song when we all play it together.

The meaning of the album’s title could be explained from different perspectives. I see it the way that it has something to do with the variety of musical influences threaded through your sound. What is your take on it?

Without giving too much away, Guthrie is British, Marco is German, and I’m American. Then, together, we run around the world into all sorts of different countries. You can imagine the kind of language and cultural strangeness that might follow. That, plus an inside reference to the Coen Brothers film A Serious Man, is where the album title came from.

Who are the other three on the album’s artwork you guys are clashing with?

That is not possible to explain. You just have to see us live. :-)

“Culture Clash” was recorded in The Sound Emporium studio in Nashville, the same studio Robert Plant and Alison Krauss recorded “Raising Sand” album, if I’m not wrong. Mark Niemiec is listed as a producer. How are you satisfied with the production?

We’re extremely happy with it. We were aware of the studio’s history but that’s not why we chose it – it just seemed like a nice place to record in Nashville, which is where I lived at the time.

And are you satisfiend with the album’s reception overall? It’s been voted as one of the top 10 releases in 2013 in our readers poll.

We are so, so grateful for the positive reception the record seems to be getting from everyone. We knew it would be an important record for us, being the follow-up to the debut, so we spent a lot of time trying to make it right, and we’re thrilled that people seem to be enjoying it. :-)

The Aristocrats live

Comparing 2011′s self-titled debut with the new album shows that the sound on the first album is more raw, while “Culture Clash” is kind of more sophisticated. “The Aristocrats” album is more rock than its successor. Was it your intention since the beginning to make “Culture Clash” less heavy?

Just the opposite, in fact! Even though Culture Clash is more “produced” sound-wise, we think the material is heavier and more aggressive than the first album, not less so. It wasn’t our intention to do anything in particular with it – it just came out that way. But we also think the material is more adventurous. We took more chances because we knew each other so much better, thanks to the touring we did for over a year.

You’ve just kicked off the Culture Clash world tour. What fans can expect?

Hopefully, anyone who comes to an Aristocrats show will see some high-energy instrumental rock/fusion played by three guys who are just having a good time and not taking themselves too seriously. We’ll play a lot of notes, hopefully in the right order – that comes along with the package – but it’s all in service of having a good time. That’s our hope, anyway.

All of you have been playing with some of the greatest musicians in the world. Does playing with TheJoe Satriani & Bryan Beller Aristocrats after all that in some way feel like returning home?

We all feel extremely fortunate to have played with guys like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Steven Wilson, Adrian Belew, and more. But as we like to say at the show, this is our baby. It just feels different when it’s your own band. And it feels great.

Name five most inspiring and influential albums that are crucial for the Aristocrats’ existence.

We’re not even going to try and answer this question – it’s just too narrow. Our iPods combined have thousands of records on them. They all count.

2013 was pretty busy for all of you, both recording and touring. Besides the upcoming “Culture Clash” tour, what else is in the pipeline for 2014?

Mostly touring for this year. So far the Culture Clash tour has only hit the U.S.A. 2014 is the year we bring that tour to the rest of the world. We’ll be looking to get going on the third record later in the year, but we don’t have a solid plan on it quite yet.

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

Listen to a lot of stuff. Figure out what you love. Then write and play what you love. Once it passes through the filter of “you”, most of the time it won’t sound like anything else. Some other people might like it, you never know.

The Aristocrats on the web:

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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