Interview with Gary Wehrkamp of Shadow Gallery

How would you describe your songwriting/recording process for Tyranny?

It is probably a bit different than some might expect. Having many songwriters in a band always makes for an interesting end product. In our case, we start all songs as individual songwriters. One of us will start working on an idea, and work quite a bit with it. Most of the members of Shadow Gallery are audio engineers to one degree or another, and multi-instrumentalists as well.... so an idea can be developed and recorded quite rapidly. Very often the process if to record some "musical idea" first, then have the lyrics fitted in later, at which point the music may be altered or more fitted to some melodic vocal line. Most often Brendt or I programs the drums into one of our drum machines, or sequencers, and we start layering almost immediately. The process usually develops into a two-man songwriting team. We have covered all the 2-man possibilities, and listening to Tyranny, you can hear the different approaches based on which two people start writing the song..such as Chris/Brendt on War for Sale or Out of Nowhere as opposed to Carl/Gary on I Believe or New World Order.

Once the initial demos are recorded by the 2 person-music-only group, the cassettes are made and passed on to everyone else. Then we all think about what else we could add. At this point Carl and Mike take over much of the work, working on vocal melodies, then turning them into lyrical vocal lines. Its a bit of "back and forth" for a while 'till the music and lyric contain the same emotion. Many times are sons change drastically or have parts that are re-written many times. I remember re-writing certain parts of the musical sections for New World Order over and over till it was just right - This is where having everyone else's input can help quite a bit... When the latest tape is met with a round of "Alright!! Wow! That's it!" You know the part was justified in being reworked to its full potential.

The recording process is a never-ending journey to hell that seems to have no return 'till the product is fully complete. From start to finish, the US will go through a few presidential elections sometimes before we have finished. -well maybe its not that bad, but it seems like it to us, and I am sure to the fans. (not to mention the record company)

Are there any plans for a tour of the U.S. anytime soon?

No. Not really. We have always been more a studio band than a performing band unfortunately, and while we rehearsed for a tour just before Tyranny was started, a few obstacles blocked our touring options, and we were locked back in the studio to make another record. I know there are many people who cannot understand why we haven't played in support of this record, and I can see why they feel that way, but honestly, it's very difficult. we all have other jobs that we rely on as income. Making Progressive rock records does not afford us the luxury of not having other sources of income. Perhaps if we were selling 800,000 records or so, we could do nothing but Shadow Gallery, but without the income, or a record company budget that allows for day-to-day living, we are forced into keeping our other jobs.

Are you working on a new album?

Yes. Slowly. We are at the "individual" part of the songwriting, and just beginning the "2-man" phase.

Why do you think it's difficult for progressive rock to become popular in the mainstream? Do you think the music is too complicated and too focused it will never appeal to anything other than a niche crowd, or do you think if it got enough hype it would be just as popular as grunge or pop-punk?

Progressive Rock is quite demanding on the listener. It requires a lot of ones attention to fully appreciate what goes into it. The commercial world is so bent on making a saleable "product" that the artistic approach is to meet the needs of the potential sales. In so many cases, it is the simplicity that becomes a key factor in reaching the masses. Most don't want to think when listening to music, they want it to be mindless, fleeting entertainment. Progressive rock is the opposite, and there are less people who are willing to give it the attention and time trials it necessitates. More hype, and promotion always will increase sales and awareness, but by design I do not think in this society it could have the chance to do as well as the radio crap does.

What do you think of the current music scene, particularly the status of progressive music relative to the other kinds?

I think I just commented on that (at the end of the last question/answer). I think its sad - but that is me. I have spent my time being detailed and creative, and challenged and disciplined with the instruments I play. I have practiced hard because I wanted to be able to play better, find more ways to express my creativity. I worked at my skills and learned from the discipline of pushing myself to become a better player. So for me to flip on the radio and hear 2 chord rock, where the guitars aren't in tune, the drums are sloppy and boring, and the content is so unoriginal and invitingly mundane, I just feel that none of my needs are expressed. The "Music business" is 5 per cent MUSIC and 95 per cent BUSINESS in the United States. Don't get me wrong, It's not that I cannot appreciate a simple song, I surely can, but when its done by design and for the needs of the industry machine, its so fake and unappealing.

What's your favorite music? That is, what music does the band listen to and currently like? Who would you cite as influences?

That list could outlast this interview. To name a few, I grew up liking Pink Floyd and Rush, Yes, Kansas, Van Halen, Queen and other prog rock like that. I also loved Guitar based music. Virtuosos like Yngwie Malsteen, and Steve Vai - anything that pushed me (and still does). As a drummer and bassist, I always loved the content of any Rush song, and liked learning that kind of thing note for note...I still would love to do nothing else but play drums in a Rush tribute band, or Bass. More recently, Dream Theater showed that same kind of appeal, and I appreciate their progressive contributions to the 90's and on. Lately, I have been more concerned with liking producers than artists. Things I never could have appreciated years ago I am able to see and dissect today. I'd pick up any Def Leppard CD now because of the great production of "Mutt" Lange, and from that, I would buy anything that HE has worked on, because I feel HIS contributions to making records are greater than most think, and far underappreciated. I have been working as a producer myself now for about 7-8 years, so my approach is very different than it was, and thus my musical appreciation is in par with my current aspirations.

The band likes everything from Tori Amos, to old Metallica, Alice Cooper, Gamma Ray, Type O Negative and Nine Inch Nails. Lately, for me, my favorite progressive rock CD is by Ayreon. I highly recommend Into The Electric Castle to anyone. It is wonderful, very accessible, extremely melodic, progressive and floydish, yet original and inviting. Maybe they will hire me for small promotion. Hahaha.

What are your future plans and where do you see yourself in the year 2000?

To eat lunch, and at a party. Also, to keep making music - in as many varieties as possible. I hope the year 2000 sees me finishing the 6 records I am recording or producing right now, and starting 10 more. I have a lot to learn, and all the aspirations to grow, so another year from now, I'll be one year better - and that will be a good thing. Hopefully the next Shadow Gallery record will reflect that musical growth!

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || || October 6, 1999