Production Notes from the Band
We started writing material for The Quest for Prester John shortly after finishing our last album, but we really didn't start digging in until 2014. Jim initially proposed the idea for a concept album about Prester John, using the legend as a vehicle for stories about passion, devotion, disillusionment, and personal redemption. Jim and David wrote most of the first sketches; but then, as always, the back-and-forth of ensemble sessions resulted in substantial revision. So this album is truly written by all four of us.
To make things complicated (apparently our favorite pasttime): for the first time, we wanted to use lyrics to tell our stories. And we've always had guest artists, but we know a lot of great musicians and we wanted to have a number of them collaborate on this big project. Many, many thanks to more than thirty (30?!) artists for enduring some very complicated pieces of music and exceeding expectations. For additional information about those collaborators, visit here.
Additional information on recordings and gear can be found beneath the tapestry!
|Faux tapestry (at left) fashioned after the Bayeux Tapestry, by David; original paintings (for CD artwork) by Martha Diaz.|
|Originally entitled "Vavasseur's Foreplay (A Very Short Fanfare)", this is a peppy little precision-prog piece.|
Eloise's adventures begin with her desire to find and serve Prester John. Her quest leads her to faraway places filled with contemptible charlatans who use the legend to exert influence and power. Ultimately, she sees through the lechery and returns home to her true love. Check out the crazy jams!
Lead vocals by Rose Taylor (Eloise), Roberta Lengua (The Bride of Gods) and Jim (The Eunuch). Joyce Graves, Danielle Pribyl, Betsy Snyder and Vanessa Yearsly are the four Brides of God. The Brides are also the background voices for The Eunuch. Alan Munson is Peter, Eloise's true love (What is a Word? and Slowly).And listen for the "Dave Choir" in Bride of Gods. Lyrics are here.
|Prester John lived in an earthly paradise, a dark ages vision of the Garden of Eden. This was difficult to perform and record; lots of restraint after multiple attempts.|
|In order to reach Asia, Prester John (and those in search of him) had to overcome the grandest barrier of eastern Europe. "Heave ho!" credits to Jim, Larry and David.|
Prester John commissioned trips up the Nile, reaching a gigantic falls at its source. Three climbed to the top, but were so overwhelmed by the experience that they refused to return. Notable for its quirky 3/2/3 pattern (rather than the usual 3/3/2). Lead vocals by David; harmonies by Jim. Lyrics are here.
|Once it was determined that Prester John was not in central Europe, he was said to have encountered Ghengis Kahn. Much of this piece came from 5/4 sketches Larry pulled together going at 200 bpm. Yow. This took some practice!|
Roderick's adventures arise from his commitment to the faraway kingdom of Prester John. His travels take him to appalling scenes of genocide and violence, and he ultimately rejects his knighthood.
Lots of scrumptious prog here; check out the wide dynamic range -- and careful of your speaker volume!
Lead vocals by David McCue (Roderick), Rich (opening poem), Davide Verotta (sailor), and Jim (The Carnage at Al-Samij). David, Jim and Rich also chime in with some strategic "deus le vult" stuff.
Lyrics are here.
A short interlude using period instruments (aulos, flute and citole) and melodic styles. Is this really written in 3/4 ... ?
|Towards the end of the era, Portuguese explorers contrived that Prester John lived in Ethiopia... although they mistook that region for India. Thirty ambassadors refuted their claim. There are thirty different synth leads that "speak"; lots of programming!|
|Prester John's kingdom was so wealthy that a river of jewels ran through it.|
Scholars in the 17th century began to admit that the legend of Prester John was probably never true. By then, more than 500 years of knights and pilgrims had squandered their entire lives on lengthy, tragic quests. This is a pretty frenetic 6/8 piece that took several rehearsals before we got it right!
Lead vocals by Jim Moreno. Lyrics are here.
RECORDINGS: There were a number of studios involved, all recording in 24-bit hi-fi: Ensemble recordings and overdubs were done by David in San Francisco (Fine Vermin). Jim mixed and produced everything, in addition to many overdubs, in Huntington Beach (Oakstone). Larry recorded some of his guitar sketches and overdubs in Millbrae (Ridgewood). Steve Glaze in San Jose (Tone Freq) was the recording engineer for the saxes in Brides of God, the pipe organ for Bride of Gods, and our returning mastering genius. Bill Davidson recorded two of the Brides, as well as Eloise, in his Orange County (Virlouise) studio. Peter Sawyer recorded Carrie's oboe (Westward Way, Santa Cruz). Alan Munson recorded his vocals in his studio on the east coast. More details and links can be found on our collaborators page.
GEAR: We've relapsed since 2012 when we went through our twelve-step programs for gear junkies. (Hey, this is California, there's a twelve-step program for everything.) Rich purchased an Octapad (SPD-30). David started using an additive softsynth (Loom) and bought a Sytek MPX-4A preamp. Jim succumbed agregiously, acquiring an Acturia Minilab, a1966 reissue Fender Deluxe Reverb amplifier, the Ventilator Leslie emulator, and two guitars: a Danelectro 12-string and Antonio Hermosa AH-50 Classical. Whew! Thankfully, Larry's guitar synth is still in the shop. And another note to Roland: we are still waiting on our long-overdue endorsement checks.
In addition to the usual Wikipedia resources, we found Robert Silverberg's textbook (The Realm of Prester John) very helpful. One of his remarkable vignettes directly inspired Above the Falls.