Keyboard player Erik Norlander (solo, Rocket Scientists, Lana Lane) has been interviewed by Profil Jimdo. Below is an excerpt:
ROCKET SCIENTISTS was formed in the 1980s by Erik NORLANDER (keyboards, vocals) and Mark McCRITE (guitars, vocals) who released the album "Earthbound" in 1993. Later joined by Don SCHIFF (bass, cello, Viola, mandolin) the Group offers us 'Brutal architecture' and 'Oblivion Days' then 'Revolution Road'. Then a long moment of silence until last year where an EP 'Supernatural Highways' looks and a few months more later "Refuel". Erik NORLANDER has wanted to accept talk group, a bit of him and the latest production "Refuel".
Profil - You study jazz and classical, but that is what you drew in the progressive music?
Erik - Thank you, Richard, it is great to talk with you about the new album and the history of the band. The expansiveness and infinite possibilities of progressive music was extremely appealing to me as a kid. I studied music and also loved science fiction, and this was a way to merge those two passions into a singular vision. The sound of the synthesizer was so fascinating, so other-worldly, I was naturally drawn to it as an instrument. Even non-synthesizer keyboard instruments like the Mellotron and Hammond — which are both surely strange contraptions — had that almost magical quality to them.
PR - Have your debut with Rocket Scientists been easy with regard to your style of music?
Erik - We released the first Rocket Scientists album in 1993, a time when progressive music was almost surely dead. And we were in Los Angeles, not exactly the center of the universe for this kind of music! So we were very cautious about being “too progressive” back then. But once the first album came out, we had a lot of support from fans, journalists and independent record shops that encouraged us to stretch out and let our progressive roots really extend out. That allowed us to make the Brutal Architecture album in 1995, and even since then, we’ve really been able to record whatever we want and know that the listeners are smart enough and artistic enough to get it!
PR - Tell us of the link that you seem to have with Mark McCrite and Don Schiff? You know for a long time, I believe?
Erik - I met Mark in 1983, when we were both in high school. Mark had just moved to California from Georgia, and we shared a European History class. Would you like to discuss the Magna Carta, the Franco-Prussian War or the Russian Revolution? :-) We learned about all of that stuff! And of course we talked a lot about music and found that we had a lot in common. We worked together on a lot of different projects, and ten years later in 1993, we released our first Rocket Scientists album. I met Don Schiff a couple of years after Mark, probably around 1985 or 1986. Don was a few years older — okay, he still is a few years older :-) — and he was an accomplished session musician who played both bass guitar and this relatively new instrument called the Chapman Stick. Don and I did some sessions together and became friends. Mark and I brought him into the Earthbound sessions in the early 90s purely as a session musician, a guest musician. But soon we realized his immense talent and what he brought to the band. It was so much more than just bass playing. So he became a core member of the group in 1995 with the Brutal Architecture album.
PR - What Lana Lane role played in your career?
Erik - I met Lana in 1987 when she hired me as the keyboardist for her band. It was a band with 3 female vocalists backed up by Larry Wilkins (Sugarloaf) on guitar, Steve Klong on drums and Dave Meros (Spock’s Beard … not yet formed!) on bass. Both Larry and Steve passed away years ago, but fortunately Dave is still going strong! I convinced Lana that she should leave the band and work on her own music. So I was the Yoko Ono figure in this band! We formed various incarnations of her live band and played a lot of club shows around Los Angeles. Then we recorded her first album right after the first Rocket Scientists album, and we released it in 1995. Lana Lane hit it big in Japan in 1998, and that launched a 7-year whirlwind of albums and tours for her all around the world. Lana has been a tremendous influence on me and my music, and she has really shown me how to look at melodies and arrangements from the vocalist’s point of view. To even make synth leads and guitar solos so melodic and well-phrased that they sound like singing. Our artistic collaboration has always been great, and it gets stronger with every project we undertake. This year we will have been married for 25 years (!), so that is quite a project in itself!
PR - There has been eight years of silence since your last studio album, what passed during this period?
Erik - After the 2007 Looking Backward release, Rocket Scientists toured quite extensively going from mid-2007 to the beginning of 2009. We played several festivals in several countries along with a lot of club dates. We actually recorded a couple of those, and I hope to release some live material soon, maybe on Blu-Ray or just simple DVD. Then two things happened that put Rocket Scientists on the shelf for a while.
First, I was invited to join a project called “Asia Featuring John Payne” at the end of 2007. This was a spin-off of the famous Asia band, and it was necessary when the four original members of Asia reunited. That left the current singer and bassist, John Payne, without a band. So he took the current Asia band — before the original lineup reunion — with guitarist Guthrie Govan and drummer Jay Schellen, and asked me to complete the lineup as the keyboardist to replace the departed Geoff Downes. I played in that band for 6 years. We played lots of live dates in the US and even some in Canada and Mexico, but John was not able to tour in Europe because of visa issues. I wrote more than album’s worth of songs with John for a new studio album that never materialized, unfortunately. We did release one single called “Seasons Will Change” along with a nice YouTube video. I left the band in early 2014 after John decided on his own to release a solo album of cover songs under the Asia Featuring John Payne band name. That was not acceptable to me and really cheapened the brand. Plus the fact that when a band cannot release an album of original material in 6 years, there is definitely something broken in the machine.
Then second, in 2009 I recorded an album called The Galactic Collective where I went into the studio with a group of Ohio musicians to re-record my 10 favorite instrumental compositions that I had written for Rocket Scientists, for my wife, Lana Lane, and for my solo albums. Those instrumental tracks all appeared on different albums, so the sound and feel of them was all a bit disparate. So rather than release a simple “Best Of” album where I would compile and remaster the original recordings, I actually decided to “re-imagine” them as a new instrumental album from the ground up. I released that album in early 2010, and I followed it up with a DVD/2CD set called Live in Gettysburg in 2012 and then an extended version of the studio album called The Galactic Collective — Definitive Edition also in 2012. The latter contained a DVD that showed each song being performed in the studio as we made the original Galactic Collective album along with a lot of interviews, of course. This project was quite well-received in the US and Mexico, and I was offered a string of live dates that have continued until the end of 2014! So the simple single album that I started in 2009 has gone on to live and breathe for 5 solid years, which is quite amazing to me. I plan to record some new instrumental music with his band in 2015 if my schedule allows it.
PR - You have completed in 2014 an EP 'Supernatural Highways' and 'Refuel', why two different albums?
Erik - We considered releasing a double album with all of this music, especially since it was all recorded during the same time period and in the same studios. But the long piece, “Traveler on the Supernatural Highways” really had its own spirit and a life of its own. Any time we tried to combine it with something else, it took away some of the power of that song. The only thing that really worked for us was to add the James Bond cover, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” as a sort of bonus track to the EP. Then the Refuel album stands separately on its own. I think both Supernatural Highways and Refuel are excellent albums, but they are very different albums. If we had combined them, it surely would have diluted the focus of each.
PR - Speaking of "Supernatural Highways", on the track "Traveler on the Supernatural Highways ' you pick up in the final the theme from the film of James Bond"On Her Majesty's Secret Service", it seems like integrating music from theme such as 'Space 1999' and 'UFO S.H.A.D.O.. Why?
Erik - “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was really recorded for Mark. Of course we have a history of re-imagining and recording theme music in our own style. So this one fit into that mold. And Mark had been a fan of composer, John Barry, since he was very small, and his was always one of his favorite theme. Maybe it is even his most favorite theme. So when I told him I was bringing in a live horn section for a few of the songs we were working on, the time was right to record this one. I can get great horn sounds on my synths, of course, but I think you really must have real brass for a James Bond theme!
PR - You want to tell us about your last album 'Refuel '?
Erik - I think it is a wonderful album with a great flow from beginning to end. It is probably the most “collaborative” recording we have ever made. Everybody contributed to each other’s songs in a quite inventive and proactive way. Don Schiff of course brought live cello, viola and contrabass to the band, and Mark had some new guitars and guitar sounds as well. We wove all that into a fine cloth, and I think it’s our best album yet. If this is the last album we ever make, I would be proud to have this one as the finale.
PR - What are the other participants on this new album?
Erik - We have the amazing Gregg Bissonette on drums, of course. I have made so many albums with Gregg, it is so natural. And this is the third Rocket Scientists album that he has played on. So he is kind of the unofficial fifth member. Who is the unofficial fourth member, you might ask now. :-) That is Lana Lane, of course, who sings a wonderful guest vocal on “The Lost Years” to close the album, but also adds harmony and choral vocals throughout the record. Kelly Keeling provides an excellent guest vocal on “Cheshire Cat Smile.” I felt we needed a more “rough” or “gravelly” voice for that song, so I brought in Kelly. We then have Jon Papenbrook on trumpet and Eric Jorgensen on trombone. These three artists first played together on my Erik Norlander — Hommage Symphonique album in 2006. And the interesting thing about that Hommage Symphonique album is that the musician lineup is the same as Refuel! Don played Stick, and Mark played guitar on it with Gregg on drums! It’s almost an unofficial Rocket Scientists album, that one.
PR - What is there is a promotional tour scheduled to support 'Refuel '?
Erik - We made the decision not to tour with this album. Rocket Scientists has done some good tours in the past, but we are not really a touring band. One thing that we have learned is that the band cannot play in bars. Rocket Scientists is really a theater band. The music works well in a theater, and it doesn’t work so well in a bar environment. I have played in bands that ARE good in a bar environment. For example, I played for 3 years in a band called Big Noize with Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow / Deep Purple), Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath) and Carlos Cavazo (Quiet Riot), and that band absolutely rocked the house whenever we were in bar-type environment. But that was heavier music, and more pop-oriented, I think, in spite of the heaviness. Rocket Scientists is really a different kind of band with more subtleties and dynamics. It asks for a quiet, seated audience to make the music work in the best way. So until we can manage a tour like that, we likely will not play live again.
However, in lieu of playing live, we decided to make a series of music videos to promote the album. We have released three videos so far: “She’s Getting Hysterical,” “It’s Over” and “Galileo.” You can find them on YouTube and Facebook both. I brought in a video production team that I had worked with before, and they have done a wonderful job for us. We will release at least one more video from the album soon.
PR - What are your future plans? Regarding your solo career can be expected in the new?
Erik - As Tom Petty once said, “The future is wide open.” I would like to record a new Lana Lane and also more original music with the artists from my Galactic Collective project. And who knows what else the future will bring!
PR - In all the achievements of Rocket Scientists, what is the album that everyone should have?
Erik - I think Refuel and Supernatural Highways summarize the band nicely. So if that’s all a person could get, they would have a good idea of what the band is about. The Looking Backward box set is also a great history of our first three albums along with a great 4th disc of live-in-the-studio re-recordings of the early music. Plus a 5th disc, a DVD of the sessions with interviews. That title is nearly out-of-print now, so I encourage anyone that is a fan of the band, or thinks they might be a fan of the band, to find a copy of Looking Backward while they still can. Then the only remaining title is Revolution Road, the double album from 2006. The European version is out of print now, but there are still copies of the US and Japanese pressings available.