the release of their 2012 album, Lonely Hills,
Austin-Texas based band The Aaron Clift Experiment received
some well-earned comparisons to progressive rock icons like Genesis
and Porcupine Tree. True, the progressive rock comparisons have merit
but the band was also influenced by classical music and jazz and display
that well-rounded musical experience on Lonely Hills. Handling
the vocals and keyboards, Aaron Clift receives solid backup
from his band, including Joe Resnick (drums), Joe Green
(bass) and Jim Ragland (guitars). In 2013, Jim Ragland
left the band and was replaced by guitarist Danny Brymer. The
songs on Lonely Hills are very well written, featuring unique-sounding
harmonies, arrangements and a wealth of intriguing melodies. The Aaron
Clift Experiment's web site features a series of videos filmed during
the recording sessions for the album, including a 10 minute documentary
Making Of Lonely Hills.' A most impressive first album from prog-rock
trendsetters, The Aaron Clift Experiment, Lonely Hills also
benefits from fine CD packaging that features all the song lyrics.
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Aaron Clift of The Aaron Clift Experiment
Can you say something about where you were born, where you live now
and what you like best about it?
Aaron Clift: I was born in Durham, North Carolina and lived
in Chapel Hill the first year of my life. I honestly dont remember
anything about it, but I hear lots of stories from my parents. My
earliest memories are from when I lived on a harbor in Centerport,
New York when I was 7 to 10 years old. A lot of my happiest memories
are of boating, going to the beach, and fishing. I think that may
be another reason why beach and water imagery crops up in a lot of
my song lyrics.
My family first moved to Austin, Texas in 1984 and then permanently
in 1990. Ive lived here off and on since then. I love how vibrant
the music scene is here and how the people here are very friendly
and laid-back. I also have to remind my friends who live outside of
Texas that Austin is a liberal oasis in a very conservative state!
mwe3: When and where was Lonely Hills written and recorded
and how were the songs constructed in the studio? Who plays what,
and were there other people involved in the making of the CD, including
mixing and mastering?
Clift: I wrote Seven, Lonely Hills, and
My Andalusian Love in 2008. At first, it was just me on
vocals, Joe Resnick on drums, and my friend, Julianne Brown on piano.
I didnt have a synthesizer at the time and needed the extra
help for the keyboard parts. At first, I thought the songs would just
be rock-influenced classical music, but after I listened to the demo
we recorded in late 2009, I realized that I wanted to move everything
in a more rock-oriented direction. I bought my Open Labs synthesizer
in early 2010, took over keyboard duties, and decided to add guitar
and bass to the songs. I spent 2010 2011 reworking the 3 songs
from the demo as well as writing the other 7 songs that appeared on
Lonely Hills. In late 2011, Joe Green joined on bass and Jim
Ragland joined on guitar, completing the band lineup. We held a few
rehearsals in early 2012 before heading to the studio in February
2012 to record the album.
In the early days of the band, nobody knew how to play the songs except
for me. Since I wrote all the guitar, keyboard, and vocal parts for
the album, I ended up transcribing them into traditional notation
and tablature as well as providing chord charts to everyone in the
band. If you watch our documentary, The Making of Lonely Hills,
youll see everyone reading from sheet music when we were recording
in the studio. It was a very classical approach to learning music...
something that all of us in the band thankfully had experience doing.
But ultimately, this was a painstaking process weve since moved
away from. As everyone in the band has gotten to know each other musically,
weve taken a much more rock and roll / jazz approach to learning
and creating songs.
Besides my talented band mates, three other people had a significant
role in shaping the sound of Lonely Hills: producer Matt Noveskey,
who helped keep the recording process focused as well as fun, engineer
Kevin Butler, who is a wiz at putting together the best bits of a
performance and mastering engineer Jerry Tubb, who has mastered thousands
of albums and knew exactly what needed to be done with this album.
What does the title Lonely Hills signify and what is the story
line throughout the music? What can you tell us about the cover art
and who designed it? It seems to fit the mood of your music.
Aaron Clift: The story in the song, Lonely Hills,
is ostensibly about a breakup, but on a deeper level is a tale of
existential loneliness. The protagonist is trying desperately to connect
with the love that hes lost but is stuck trying to climb a hill
that he cant cross. The theme of despair versus hope in this
song is something that crops up in several other songs on the album,
but I feel that Lonely Hills is the thesis statement
of the album.
I wanted the album artwork to reflect a sense beauty and romanticism
combined with bleakness and angst. Our graphic designer, Danielle
Powers, did a fantastic job of capturing these emotions in the album
artwork. She also designed The Aaron Clift Experiments lettering
and bird logo. Check out her other creations at www.blackmarkerdesign.com.
What are your favorite songs on the Lonely Hills CD? To my
ears, Seven is one of the best prog-rock songs of 2013.
Also the CD closing Eye Of The Storm, pt. 4 of The
Castaway Saga is a great way to close the album. What inspired
Aaron Clift: My favorite songs from the album are Shipwrecked
and The Shell. I feel like these songs really showcase
the range of the band, have the best guitar solos on the album, and
really come alive in a live setting.
Seven was actually the first song I wrote for The Aaron
Clift Experiment. I wrote it in 2008 after a period of seven years
I like to call my quarter life crisis. It was a time when
I was very unsure about my future and what I wanted to do with my
life and career. The lyric, seven years, I have wandered,
was the first thing that came to my head when I reflected on what
I had been through. I definitely felt like I had just gone through
a difficult journey of discovery and wanted to somehow capture the
frustration of that time period in song form. The idea of including
superstition and luck imagery in the song lyrics came directly from
the phrase, seven years of bad luck. Im thankful
that Im in a much better place with my life now!
Of The Storm is a song that was inspired a lot by the Tom Hanks
movie, Castaway, in particular the scene in which Hanks
character finally makes up his mind to sail away from the deserted
island. In Eye Of The Storm, the protagonists journey
into the ocean is a decision to move from despair to hope. In an album
full of angst and minor key songs, I wanted to end everything on a
more positive note.
mwe3: How do you compose the music and is it transcribed and what
role does the computer play in writing and composing and recording
music? What comes first, music or lyrics and how does coming from
a classical music background impact your symphonic prog-rock sound?
Aaron Clift: When it comes to song writing, sometimes Ill
have a music idea first that Ill hammer out on piano or guitar,
other times Ill write out a chord chart, and still other times
Ill have a poem written before any music is even written. But
whatever I do, I always approach song composition in a writerly fashion.
I find it very difficult to shape and develop my musical ideas if
I dont know what Im writing about. Usually all I need
to get going is a good lyric or a provocative song title.
probably has to do with the fact that I started off as a writer long
before I wrote music. I wrote my first poems and stories when I was
10. When I was 12, I read The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings
for the first time, and that pretty much started my lifelong obsession
with the fantasy novels and subculture and ignited my interest in
writing. In high school, my creative writing teacher introduced me
to poet, Robert Bly both literally and figuratively. Besides
reading his poetry in class, I got to interview him for our literary
magazine. Meeting a poet of that stature was one of the most exciting
moments of my teenage years. In college, I was a Spanish and music
major. During that time, I got into romantic and modernist Spanish
poets such as Federico Garcia Lorca, Luis Cernuda, and Jaime Gil de
Besides my literary influences, I think my classical background heavily
shaped my approach to song writing. I started playing viola in school
orchestra when I was 12 and played all throughout junior high and
high school and then switched to voice in college. During this time,
I was listening to a lot of rock music of the day like Alice in Chains,
Nirvana and Soundgarden. I still love these bands, but the classical
music I was studying really made me think of music in a much more
expansive way. If a well-constructed piece of music could be anything
from a 1-minute Chopin etude to a 40-minute symphony by Beethoven,
then I realized that anything was possible within music.
to me to progressive rock was how it combined all the things I loved
in art the literary influences, the symphonic approach of classical
music, the power of rock all into a beautiful whole. When I
heard albums like Selling England By The Pound, In The Court Of
The Crimson King, and Images And Words, for the first time, I
felt like I had found my calling. Its really a dream for me
to be making the same kind of music that so deeply inspired me.
mwe3: Can you say something about your favorite gear used on the
CD and which instruments and musical companies seem to suit your sound?
In addition to your favorite instruments, what amps and sonic effects
do you use to color and enhance your sound?
Aaron Clift: For all of us in the band, its all about
versatility and color. We used a wide variety of instruments to capture
all the different sounds we needed to get for the album.
I use an Open Labs Neko LX5 synthesizer for all of my keyboard parts.
Since all of my sounds are software-based, Im able to produce
the same sounds in a live setting that you hear on the album. I used
Komplete by Native Instruments for about 75 percent of my sounds,
and 25 percent other programs such as Purity by Luxonix, True Pianos
by 4 Front for all the acoustic piano sounds, and Crystal by Green
Oak Software. I love mixing and combining effects, and the Open Labs
software makes all of this possible. For example, the keyboard part
in the section in Shipwrecked just after the guitar solo
features a mix of mellotron choir, real choir, and about 8 other synth
patches. I would have never been able to get a sound like that live
or even in the studio 20 years ago.
sounds on the album, Jim Ragland used mostly his modified 1973 Telecaster
and 1940 Martin guitar, a Gibson amp, and Marshall amp. Danny Brymer,
our new guitarist who joined in February 2013 after Jim left the band,
uses primarily a Jackson SL-3 soloist guitar and Blackstar HT-40 amp.
He has a ton of other gear as well that you can read about on his
Joe Green, our bassist, uses a Music Man 5 string bass and Aguilar
cabs. One of the cool parts about making Lonely Hills was that
our producer Matt Noveskey, bassist for rock band Blue October, also
happens to use Aguilar cabs. Matt ended up lending Joe a ton of his
own pedals and basses when we recorded the album.
Joe Resnick, our drummer, has 2 main DW kits that he uses live and
in the studio. We also used a variety of different snares for the
album, including a very deep one on Arsonist Games.
How do you work at becoming a better musician and how do you plan
on improving musically, sort of evolving in the future? What areas
as a musician do you need to focus on more and how does practicing
music compare to writing music?
Aaron Clift: For me, improving as a musician is all about becoming
more open-minded about other forms of music. When I was a teenager,
I used to hate most mainstream pop music and wouldnt give the
genre a chance. While I still tend to prefer more adventurous music,
Ive come to appreciate and enjoy a lot of current pop hits as
well. I feel like its important for me to know about current
trends in music even if I dont plan to use them in my songs.
At worst, I know what I dont want my music to sound like, and
at the best, I feel more connected to the world around me and less
stagnant as an artist.
On a personal level, I want to become more versatile with my own craft.
Progressive rock is such a wide-ranging genre, and I feel like The
Aaron Clift Experiment has just scratched the surface of what were
capable of doing. It continues to astound me how my musical heroes
such as Frank Zappa and Led Zeppelin were masters at so many styles
of music. Thats what I want this band to be.
mwe3: Whats been the reaction to the Lonely Hills
album by the media, radio, print, internet and which mags, radio and
web sites interest you the most? Has the internet replaced magazines
as the dominant and most useful tool as far as music marketing? I
know you were involved with Prog magazine in the UK. Prog mag are
doing a pretty good job!
Aaron Clift: When the band completed Lonely Hills, I
felt like we had done a good job, but I honestly had no idea how the
public would react to the album. Im overwhelmed by the positive
response that fans and the media have given Lonely Hills. We
were featured in Prog Magazine in March of this year, which was a
dream come true for me, being the huge prog nerd that I am. (lol)
Being that the world is so big and with prog bands in every country,
how are you planning to cover all the bases to get your name further
out there? How can you market and further get your name and music
into the world?
Aaron Clift: I love how the Internet has brought music fans
and communities together. Ive met some truly amazing musicians
and music fanatics through concerts Ive attended, message boards
Ive been a part of, and progressive rock clubs Ive joined.
All along the way, Ive told people about The Aaron Clift Experiment,
so for me, building a sustainable career is all about networking and
gaining new fans one person at a time.
On a much larger level, were gaining a lot of wide exposure
through media like Prog Magazine, Aii Radio, and of course mwe3.com
What are your plans, musically and otherwise, for 2013 and 2014 moving
Now is a very exciting time for The Aaron Clift Experiment! Danny
and I just started writing new songs for a second album which we hope
to release sometime in 2015. In the meantime, we as a band are continuing
to book larger gigs and do more shows with other progressive rock
Were a pretty new band, so we havent played outside of
Austin yet, but we hope to change that in the next year by playing
shows in other Texas cities. We have a lot of fans in Europe, so I
hope to organize a tour there sometime in the next 4 5 years.
Thanks to Aaron Clift @ www.AaronClift.com