By DW Dunphy
The genre of progressive rock, known affectionately by its fans as "prog," has a few distinct regions of origination. Most notably, the U.K. gets namedropped most often, followed by New York and California. But aside from Monmouth County stalwarts Symphony X in the prog-metal ranks, New Jersey simply isn't a hotbed for the complex and theme-driven eccentricities of prog.
That may be changing. With the official release of their second album, The Post-Human Condition, Old Bridge band No More Pain may be envoys for the style. As an accomplished live performance group, No More Pain reflects several of prog's touchstones – Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, Pink Floyd, Kansas, and King Crimson * – while forging a sound and perspective of their own.
New Jersey Stage spoke with writer-singer-guitarist Mike Roman and drummer Dan Rainone as they mapped out plans for playing the album live and promoting it to as many people as possible.
Approximately when did Debate and Rhyme come out and what accounts for the time between that and The Post-Human Condition?
Mike Roman: Debate and Rhyme came out in October of 2011. Within that period of time we had a couple of member changes and began the process of writing some new material, much of which appears on the new album.
This is a concept album, so can you give me an idea about the narrative and what was involved with writing it?
Mike: The writing process was a mix between taking heavily calculated sections, developed over time, and taking sections involving a lot of spontaneity.
Dan Rainone: It tells the story of a man awakening to a world run by technology, and his failure to escape it.
That's shown with the cover art illustrating people tumbling out of an all-seeing electric eye on a computer monitor with each successive person is morphing into sheep. So in a way, is this a bit like a "Rip Van Winkle" story where the outsider is the only one capable of seeing what's going on?
Mike: It's more of an esoteric story, not necessarily of a concrete character, but of one who can be molded using the lyrical ideas and musical moods. The music represents his mood, taking the same musical theme but introducing it using different environments and tones.
The main melody has its appearance in multiple tracks. It appears first as a dainty piano piece and is reintroduced later as a chaotic frenzy. So in a way the narrative and lyrical passages play directly off of the musical ideas we had already written.
The band's sound, while cohesive, certainly has a lot of influences. What is required to actually develop a band identity, or a signature band sound?
Mike: Well, a portion of developing identity involves understanding other identities by playing off of influences and learning different styles. The other portion is taking all you've learned and throwing it out the window to give way to a more instinctual reaction.
Some of the moments had a purposeful attempt at synthesizing pre-existing styles. Sometimes we'd say okay that sounds like Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and Soundgarden all mashed together. Sometimes it would be a King Crimson sort of thing with multiple time signatures. Other times jazz and freeform make its way in. But never losing focus of the conceptual sphere was the most important thing for me.
Dan: We all have varied yet similar tastes in music. We go with what feels right at the moment.
Have there been instances where a piece was being developed, but had to be taken down to the basics and built up again, to get back to that "instinctual reaction." Or even the piece had to be put on the shelf for not working?
Dan: "Bleed" was a song that took a while to finish. We over thought it for a while and it wasn't feeling right. We ended up making up the last few minutes on the spot a week before we entered the studio. Sometimes you have to chuck what isn't right and just start again. There were several pieces that weren't used because it didn't fit in. They may serve a purpose in the future though.
To be blunt, New Jersey is not a hotbed for prog rock. The state has Symphony X and Jerry Gaskill from King's X lives here. How has it been building a fanbase in a region without that support infrastructure in place?
Mike: I think the American audience for progressive music has always been a difficult sell. There hasn't been much of a supporting scene for this stuff since the 70's. There was resurgence in the 90's of proggy bands like Dream Theater, Tool, and Radiohead, but it was always the select few bands that shined through. I think identity makes it easier to develop a devoted fanbase. The mass media markets don't necessarily see it. We do have our dedicated fans though, and we can see a lot of people really getting into the material, which has been beyond awesome.
Dan: There's also a ton of other local bands that are very supportive of one another. There's a lot of incredible talent out there that will never make it to the mainstream, but it's there.
The cover art is intriguing. There's a binary code in the spiral design. What does it translate to?
Mike: In regard to the binary code, ha-haaa! That's for the fans to find out and decode for themselves. I can only hint that it will be eerily familiar when uncovered.
What are the long-term plans for the band through 2015?
Mike: The goal is to have our website up and ready with all sorts of merchandise available to the public, playing lots of shows, and finding bands with similar styles and ambitions is another. We plan on hitting the road at some point as well. It's open ended at this point, but we plan on being very active through the year.
We figured it would be most appropriate to perform The Post-Human Condition in its entirety. Although a very daunting task, it has been a great time trying to figure out how to cover all of the parts with just four people. At times it becomes stressful and I can't stand it because it doesn't come out exactly how I'd wish it, but once you work through it, the sound sort of makes itself, and the stress is relieved.
Dan: Shows, shows, shows. Unleash this baby to the world! I can play all these songs in my sleep at this point.
I also heard a rumor that a vinyl version of the new album may be possible.
Dan: If money happens in good heaps, it could be possible. But there may be some sort of special vinyl release in the future. You'll just have to wait and see.