Thieves Kitchen: Inside the prog family

DURP - eZine from the progressive ocean


What does the name of the band mean?

The name comes from the Dickens novel 'Oliver Twist', Mark came up with the suggestion. The Thieves Kitchen is the place is the place where the child pickpockets were based. There is no real significance in the name with respect to the music although the idea of a collection of lovable rogues appeals to me ;-).

How much are you involved in the prog scene?

Oh, there's a scene is there ? …wow !!! Seriously, Mark has a wide ranging group of friends who are involved in prog music in some way, the rest of us are miles behind. We are close friends with other prog bands such as Sphere and Tantalus, Steve the guitarist from Sphere orchestrated the cd artwork with Paul. Before I released my solo album a couple of years ago, I personally had no Idea how much interest there was in Prog and Fusion music. Since then I've met and become friendly with a fair few people. One thing has to be said, without exception the band members, record companies, reviewers and fans have all been extremely helpful and supportive. There is more a feeling of family than there is of competition and long may it continue.

How would you define the difference between your music and the sound of other progbands? What about the influence of other artists to you?

Ah, difficult. I think it's a bit dangerous for a band to analyse what it does too deeply, especially in relation to other bands. I'd rather leave that to reviewers. One thing's for sure, all people who hear 'Head' will get a different impression from it and hopefully some will think that it brings something new to the party.
The best way I can answer this one is to say from a personal point of view what I get out of the TK sound. For me, the sound is heavier than is normal in prog. The compositions have concentrated on melody, but have a backbone that is complex in nature but tends to sound natural in practice. Did that sound pompous ? (it did to me!! I told you it was dangerous ….) As for influences, all the members of TK have wide-ranging tastes but I can list some of the key ones for you.
Simon :- A heavier background, Loves the Chili Peppers & Radiohead.
Paul :- Gentle Giant, XTC, Anglagard.
Mark :- 1973 King Crimson (June- July period). Recent Scandanavian prog.
Wolfgang :- A Jazzier background. Dave Grubin, Steely Dan.
Myself :- Yes, Frank Zappa, National Health (+ all Dave Stewart) Soundgarden & KingsX

Is there a mastermind inside of the band or are you more a "democratic" band?

Definitely democratic. Not that this means there's endless voting on the length of guitar solo's or anything ;-). No, all of us have played major parts in previous bands so its just a case of everyone having something to offer.

How does the songwriting work in the band?

Well, The songwriting credit for all the songs is attributed to the whole band because everybody has contributed something to the compositions.
In terms of the mechanics, much of the serious compositional work has been accomplished using computer sequencers. It's a personal view of mine that too many people look down on new tech because it's been used to create a lot of boring and repetitive music, yet I've found it by far the easiest way to communicate ideas to others and develop compositions.
The midi files are past around by email and can be developed to a significant extent before we start fleshing it out in rehearsal. The downside?, I tend to write guitar lines on sequencer that are nearly impossible to play, that'll teach me ;-)
As for the tracks on 'Head', they were written largely before Wolfgang joined. I expect both he and Paul to play a much larger part in the songwriting on future albums.
Track by track: (from memory)

Themes- Myself
Arrangement- Myself and Simon
Melody and lyrics- Simon
Instrumentation- All
Themes- Myself
Arrangement- Myself and Simon and Paul
Melody and lyrics- Myself and Simon
Instrumentation- All
Themes- Paul
Arrangement- Myself and Simon and Paul
Melody and lyrics- Simon
Instrumentation- All
Themes- Myself and Simon
Arrangement- Myself and Simon and Paul
Melody and lyrics- Simon
Instrumentation- All
Themes- Myself
Arrangement- Myself
Melody and lyrics- Myself
Instrumentation- All

How are the reactions of the people in your neighborhood to your music?

It's early days yet, our first public statement is the release of 'Head' and that was only a few weeks ago. It would be interesting to answer the same question in a year's time

What does the title of the record mean?

'Head' was chosen as it has many meanings, some serious, some humorous. To me it's like the start of something, lets hope it is.;-)

What about the cover artwork? Nice, but abstract...

Yes, controversial.
Although deliberately contentious we chose the cover after much thought as a statement of our intent to break the rules. The artist is called Stanislaw Kors who is Polish and living in South Africa. Paul found some examples of his work (which he calls Infrarealism) on the internet and we were delighted when he said yes to us using his painting for the cover.

What do you think about the situation of your musical genre in the presence and what will change in the future?

Certainly, at the moment, there is little widespread interest in bands who play Fusion or Prog music for whatever reason. For sure, there is no way we could earn a living from purely playing this kind of music so it's very much a labour of love. In the future, who knows?. Genre is a bit of leading term, groups can call themselves prog and never get a second hearing from the mainstream music press (who seemingly live in dread of inflatable pigs, Hobbits, concept albums and 20minute guitar solos). And yet, we have some excellent albums by Radiohead, Mansun, and how about XTC's 'Apple Venus' which seriously break moulds and people go wild.
In the future you may get more bands which appear in the mainstream but have recognisable prog roots. You are more likely, however, to see people accessing non-mainstream music (including prog) via internet and thus, it becoming more widespread and popular.

Can you give me some liner notes to the songs of your record?

Ha ….It's more than my life's worth . Simon has deliberately not published the lyrics but instead has included general track descriptions on the cd cover to set a mood. This way, people can make up there own minds as to the meaning or whatever.

Progfans are ignorant and narrow-minded. They live in the past and don't care about the meaning of the word progress.

You really shouldn't put yourself down so much….. Most people I've met who happen to like prog are far from this description. In general, my friends are as likely to listen to Supergrass as Zappa and you'll find the real world is a far cry from the stereotype.

So you could have the possibility to make this record again. Would you change anything?

Actually, very little. 'Head' is what it is, largely because of how it was made. We did it very quickly, we did it in my own studio rather than at a commercial site, we did it all ourselves. Wolfgang only joined in October, honestly, that man has worked miracles not only to learn the parts but to add his own distinct character to the album. Everybody worked like crazy to make this happen and I think this level of passion comes across in the music and the performances. We could have waited another six months, slightly changed the compositions, polished our playing until it gleamed, but I'm not sure the album would have been better.

Is each member of the band absolute satisfied with each song of the record?

Quite simply, yes. I'm sure that the album doesn't satisfy everything we ever want to achieve in our music ever. We'll save all that for the albums to come.

Was it your intention to handle all the production, distribution and management things self or is it because you couldn't get an record deal?

No, this was a definite decision. We had spoken to a few record companies in 1999 and had offers on the table based on the demos we'd done, but when we went through the logistics we decided we should make a go of it ourselves as it increased our options. Even though we decided to go it alone, Malcolm at Cyclops Records has helped us significantly with excellent advice and support, he's been a real star.

What about the fact that a lot of people mean a good prog song must be an long track?

Not true in my opinion. I think any song should be as long as it is meant to be, be it 4 minutes or 24 minutes. There are long prog tracks which are straining the content to the limit, but it's a worse crime to limit song lengths across the board to 3 1/2 minutes to fit in with radio advertising requirements.

Is it more difficult to write an 15 minute epic than an three minute radio hit?

Different skill sets, both difficult. Wouldn't it be great though if someone could write both a 15min epic, and a 3 minute hit, both excellent, and from the same key themes. Now that would be class !!!!

What about your future plans?

We're back into rehearsal now getting both the tracks from 'Head' and some new material up to speed. We are planning on gigs starting in the Summer, hopefully, UK to start with but we're exploring the possibility of Europe and the US this year too. We plan to record the next album as we complete the new material. The rate we are composing at the moment this could be sooner than we originally thought. Basically, we can't wait to get out and play the material live, hope to see some of you there.

© 07/2000 Renald Mienert
DURP - eZine from the progressive ocean