GANDALF'S FIST
From A Point Of Existence
(Musik & Film Records)

 

There’s plenty of hard rock and prog-rock action in play on the most recent CD from the U.K. band known as Gandalf’s Fist. Formed back in 2005, Gandalf’s Fist mixes up 1970s era prog with elements of folk music and hard rock and the results of their 2012 CD entitled From A Point Of Existence will certainly make them of interest to progressive rock fans. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Dean Marsh and vocalist Luke Severn, Gandalf’s Fist has a bright future and is in the throes of finishing their late 2013 CD. Even so, their third and latest full length CD, From A Point Of Existence is well played and features some solid electric guitar based prog-rock sounds and styles. What’s even more amazing is that Dean Marsh plays just about everything on the CD that, through the art of studio overdubbing, sounds like a full band. There’s a definite kind of hard rock meets near metal vibe but the concepts and sounds are very much rooted in classic progressive rock. Carving out a unique space in a crowded prog-rock scene, Dean’s electric guitar work is on fire for most of the CD. Decked out in the kind of artwork that was so appealing back during the heyday of prog-rock circa 1975, the CD even has a story line, making it a kind of modern day rock opera, which helps to make the album a unique collection in the global prog-rock world. www.GandalfsFist.com


mwe3.com presents an interview with
Dean Marsh & Luke Severn of
GANDALF’S FIST



mwe3
: Tell us about your early years growing up in England. What was the music that inspired you to become interested and then involved in music and speaking of which, why do you think England has such a rich history of music? I fully understand the importance of “the golden age of prog” and so what bands and artists were important to you both musically and inspirationally, both now and then?

DEAN MARSH: Growing up in the north of England definitely has an impact on you as a young music fan… you grow up listening to Zeppelin singing about viking hordes and great battles and then you take the dog for a walk down the Solway Firth or Lake District and you are hit with this stunning Cumbrian landscape that seems to have jumped right off the vinyl pressing.

That’s one of the reasons why I love songs with a narrative, that paint a little movie inside your head, and something I find myself gravitating towards doing when I write music myself. I’ve always loved music... my dad was a great guitarist and musician and would often sing me and my brother Don McLean songs instead of bedtime stories, so I think that love was ingrained in me from a very early age.

As a teenager, as clichéd as it sounds, I had a life-changing moment the first time I heard Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. I think that it’s quite evident in our music that since then I’ve been a massive Floyd nut. Other bands that definitely inspire me are the likes of Jethro Tull, Camel, King Crimson and Gryphon. I listen to a wide spectrum of music and Gandalf’s Fist is my expression of that. Elements of my love for hard rock, traditional folk, prog and psychedelic all show through in some form or other.

I think one of the reasons that Britain has such a rich history in terms of music, especially in terms of ‘popular music’ of the last fifty years was to do with you had groups of working class kids looking for escapism from the monotony of industry.

That’s why you get massive insurgents of bands leaping out from industry heavy towns like Birmingham and Liverpool... there was a certain standardization and ‘accepting of one’s lot’ to a certain degree and that all changed with the postwar ideology of people striving towards self expression.

You get that associated work ethic of someone whose old lad has grafted all their life... and I think that defiantly carried forward into what became the successful acts over the years, they were determined and they grafted at it. Not like today where unfortunately the ideology of these reality TV shows seems to have instilled into young, often very talented, musicians that you have one audition and life is either handed to you on a plate, or you give up.

LUKE SEVERN: I grew up listening to 1960's and 70's music, my parents era, and I think the rich history stems from wartime Britain. We had a rough old time during that period and the generation after that really let loose and enjoyed life, starting with The Beatles, through Zeppelin, the Stones, Sabbath, all these bands came out of that era of freedom and have gone on to inspire the following generation.

Pink Floyd continue to be a great influence. I'm also a massive Queen fan, although not strictly prog, some of their stuff has very prog elements. Recently I've been listening to a lot of Rush so that golden age still influences us now.

mwe3: Tell us about your early musical training, where and when did you start to study guitar and music and what instruments do you play and what instruments do you write music with and why?

LUKE SEVERN: I'm purely a voice, a hired hand to pull in a different sound to Dean’s vocal. I have a choral background and was involved in musical performances at school and such.

DEAN MARSH: I got an unbranded electric guitar as a present for passing my exams when I was 16. Up until that point, I had never had a music lesson in my life… and I haven’t had one since. The action was terrible, it made my fingers bleed and the sound it generated was akin to a flatulatic baboon but it gave me the initial buzz of playing music.

I would play along to my favorite records, which at the age of 16 were Masters Of Reality by Sabbath and Maiden’s Piece of Mind. I would just play and play until it sounded right and that’s how I learned. I think joining a live band shortly after defiantly helped the learning progress. You have to learn quickly out of necessity, especially when playing alongside musicians that had been playing for years... you either learn quickly or sound crap... sometimes both!

When we’re recording a Gandalf’s Fist project I play all the electric guitars, acoustic guitars, mandolin, banjo and the bass. On the last two records I’ve played the synths as well as the tin whistle... usually the vocals end up being 50/50 between Luke’s and mine.

I actually write about ninety nine percent of the songs on an acoustic guitar when I’m just relaxing on the couch and messing about... once I come up with an idea most of the song gets written within the hour. I would also like to point out that I’m teaching Luke how to play the spoons so we can perform his 20 minute rock opus “A Supernova of Spoon (Part VIII)” sometime live in the near future.

mwe3: The most recent Gandalf’s Fist CD, From A Point Of Existence is a fully formed prog-rock suite of songs that is based around the ten part title track that is being called “A Medieval Space-Rock Odyssey”. Can you elaborate upon the concept of the title track suite, what is the story line about and how do the other tracks fit in? Also the CD artwork is great. Is the album artwork also intrinsic to the concept?

DEAN MARSH: “Medieval Space-Rock” was, I think, coined by one of our fans on Facebook, primarily to do with our general prog sound mixed with some folk motifs that pop up every now and again.

We thought for a while about doing a Tolkien-themed album based around The Hobbit... mainly because of our name we would often get emails asking if we would ever actually do one. I thought about the general story and thought about what if it was transposed to real-life people rather than wizards and dragons and what followed basically ended up in a 30 minute track, split in two parts, about the cycle of redemption.

At the start of the title suite, a ruthless tycoon is murdered on his doorstep and what follows is basically a semi-hallucinogenic journey through his dying thoughts. While this is going on, the other tracks play out the individual stories of characters plotting to steal his wealth and position, each of whom have their individual motives and represent distinct aspects of the human condition - Love, Greed, revenge... that’s the idea anyway.

The album art is actually the second version of what we had planned. Originally we acquired some art which had the title character lost adrift a sea of clouds with a stepladder leading downwards. It represented the story of the record but not the psychedelic sound. As a result, my sister Aisling actually did the redesigned sleeve by hand and did a fantastic job. It really harks back to covers from the likes of Caravan where you are sort of looking at this weird landscape that would, in your mind, be the geographic origin of what you were listening to.


LUKE SEVERN: We wanted to put an album together based on the Hobbit. We changed the setting, so it’s kind of Tolkien meets Blade Runner. We concentrate on the Lonely Mountain as a towerblock "Monolith" and the death of the Dragon. The album title being the point of death where the dragon falls, it's pretty dark but, that's generally the music that appeals to us. Moody, slightly depressing but with massive guitar riffs. Yeah, the song “Crestfallen” is about the flight of a robin over the city, where the story takes place, and the ice cream represents the stories' main character William Small… he's an ice cream man!

mwe3: When did you form Gandalf’s Fist and how has the band and the band’s sound evolve from the early days? Can you tell us about your musical partnership in Gandalf’s Fist? What is the chemistry like and can you say something about the recording process, for instance how much overdubbing is there and what was the studio process like while recording the From A Point Of Existence CD?

LUKE SEVERN: Back in 2005, this was just Dean's solo outlet for creating music. It was just a collection of riffs and ideas. I have to say it was a joke for a while, then in 2009 we reevaluated and recorded The Master And The Monkey, it was rough and ready, not very polished but set us down a road to record two albums and an EP in the last two years. Our sound has evolved from that early phase, to be much more epic and grand in scale. Basically, Dean writes it I sing it. Once the bed of the songs are there we work collaboratively to develop the album, but mainly it’s just Dean creating the hearts of the song and myself and Dean writing and singing the lyrics and then both of us working on the mix and polishing the overall sound. We work well together, we're friends first, band mates second, so if something isn't working or needs changing, neither of us is afraid to tell the other to do it again.

DEAN MARSH: When we first started out we were just messing about and it was all whacked together in a couple of hours and fired on the internet. We really didn’t think anyone in their right minds would listen to it! Gandalf’s Fist is basically the result of two friends having fun. It’s not like I hired Luke in or anything, we were already mates from university and found that we had a great laugh writing and recording songs together.

Things are a lot more gradual than a couple of years ago. Now people are actually listening to the stuff we’re putting out there is a bit more of a concerted effort and money going into the production side of things. The way the creative process usually works is that I’ll come up with a quick demo and Luke will give me some feedback via email. From there I’ll build the tracks up over the following months, either in our own studio or hired studio space. It’s usually about halfway through this process when I’ll hit Luke up for some lyric ideas. Sometimes I’ve written everything and need some gaps filled, and sometimes I’ll just have chorus to work on. After that it’s deciding who’s voice fit where. Luke’s voice is great for the heavier stuff and I tend to be more of a chorus kinda guy.

Finally, we make it fun. We set up all the gear in the studio and buy beer. Lots of beer. We lock ourselves in there until we’re happy with the tracks doing rough edits on the fly and then I’ll spend a good few weeks working on the final mixes. We’re massive control freaks so we try and work in our own studio space if we can but sometimes we simply don’t have the time so we’ll spend a day or two locking off some of the shorter tracks in a commercial recording studio.

On From A Point Of Existence, there is quite a lot of layering to create textures and atmosphere, especially in the title track however, I always insist on doing guitar solos in one take, no punch-ins. Sometimes this leads to hours of frustration of Luke testing the durability of the record button but it makes the difference. I always like to go back and add a little overdub harmony here and there as I’m a great fan of that Wishbone Ash lead style and it’s become a bit of a trademark...

mwe3: Can you tell us about the guitars and other gear you play on the From A Point Of Existence CD? Which guitars are your favorites and how about acoustic guitars, strings, picks and pedals that enhance your sound and what amps you prefer? What do you like best about the current guitar market?

DEAN MARSH: I like using Jacksons, I think they’re a great versatile instrument and am not really that keen on swapping guitars every five minutes. I use a Laney head but used a lot of amp modeling during the recording of From A Point Of existence, for the main reason that I had absolutely no idea where some of these tracks were going. It’s a godsend to be able to change the sound rather than do an entire re-record, especially on a song that is 17 minutes long.

That said, on the single track, “There And Back Again”, we mixed things up a bit and used a Telecaster through an Orange head for a bit of contrast. But other than that it all pretty much stays the same. I prefer lighter strings on electric and heavier on acoustic and I have my own guitar picks made. I like them quite thick and after I’ve finished using them they go into free gifts to people who order CDs from our website.

To be honest, I’m not a tech-freak, I like to keep things simple. If I like a guitar when I play it in the store I’ll just buy it. There’s a fella down the road, Steve, he builds his own acoustic guitars and I was down there the other day trying them out, absolutely fantastic sound and that’s the kind of thing I like, although I did give him my old 6 string banjo the other day and now I think his wife officially hates me! (lol)

mwe3: What do you like best about the current state of progressive rock in England and prog around the world in general? It seems like there’s a whole new generation of bands and artists who were greatly inspired by the first prog-rock bands. Also it’s pretty amazing that there’s a whole magazine geared to the prog-rock world, I'm speaking about the Progrock mag coming out of London. It’s a lot to cover but they do a pretty good job!

DEAN MARSH: To be honest I find it really exciting that there is such a high quality of material coming from the likes Porcupine Tree, Crippled Black Phoenix, Astra, Von Hertzen Brothers... the list goes on, and moreover, it seems that I’m discovering a great new band every week. Hopefully some people think that about us.

I really enjoy Prog magazine. We’ve been featured in it a couple of times and I think they do a good job of covering the heavy-hitters whilst promoting the up and coming bands and long may it continue. I think its popularity will only inspire more bands in the future. The internet also has a great role to play in this new era of progressive rock. It’s great that everyone has access to our material, I can only imagine what would have happened if I released these records back in the day. I never did have the patience for selling cassettes from the boot of my car!

LUKE SEVERN: It’s great that there are others out there. With not being on the gigging scene, we are quite isolated from it, so I'm glad that people are starting to notice prog again.

Yeah, Prog magazine have been quite supportive to us, we have a couple of contacts down there, any advertisement is great and it means that we can reach out to some of the older prog fans, maybe those that buy and read magazines, but aren't necessarily aware of us from the internet, where most of our following has come from.

mwe3: What do you like to do to relax and outside of music? Do you have favorite pastimes, favorite movies, books and other hobbies?

LUKE SEVERN: Well we're both massive geeks, and could quite happily pass the afternoon, watching Game Of Thrones or playing X-Box. I'm a massive comic book fan as well, so the amount of movies spinning out of that genre at the moment is great. We both follow Football (soccer) and spend many an evening watching or talking about that.

DEAN MARSH: I would just like to clarify that I am not as massive a geek as Luke! I think I have geek-like-tendencies but I’m quite happy to leave Luke to his comics! (lol) Personally, I like a bit of fishing and as part of my job I’ve done a lot of fell walking, rock climbing and caving which I’ve grown to really enjoy. I also consider myself a bit of a ‘chef-de-cuisine’ in the galley and my signature dishes are pie, pie sandwiches and pie-floaters, which is a pie floating on top of a bowl of soup!

Recently, I’ve just finished organizing and stage managing the Maryport Harbour festival which featured Mostly Autumn and Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash. That ate up most of my free time so now it’s great to get back to the production of the next record.

My favorite film is “Blade Runner” but my favorite writer is actually Shakespeare. I have a degree in literature and let me tell you it was cringe-worthy to bear witness to every other classmate writing their thesis on ‘Harry Potter’. I thought about writing mine on “Where’s Wally/Waldo”. But I couldn’t find him.

mwe3: Can you tell us about the next planned CD from Gandalf’s Fist? Is there a title and how far down the line are you as far as writing and recording and how would you compare your current musical direction with the other Gandalf’s Fist CDs? What other plans do you have for the second half of 2013 and beyond?

LUKE SEVERN: The new record is in process, we basically released From A Point Of Existence and Dean went straight back into to the studio to start on the next project. I personally have not been on to the studio yet to add my vocals, but I would hope we will be ready for a late 2013 release. As for other projects, we released a Christmas EP last year, which is becoming an annual event, so look out for that and I'm trying to book some studio time to revisit our first album, Master And The Monkey and make it the album it should have been.

DEAN MARSH: The premise the next record is that you are intercepting a signal that is being broadcast from a derelict space station from the far corners of the universe from two space hobos that have stumbled upon some salvaged instruments and have begun an impromptu interstellar jam to tell the story of a mythical character named ‘the universal wanderer’... Is that ‘Prog’ enough? (lol)

There’s a short story being written alongside the creation of the record by a very talented young writer so that will be offered in some shape or form with the album release.

The recording process is in full swing now, we have maybe four tracks that are locked off as one hundred percent finished. I’d say we’re about halfway through. I’m really excited by the next record. It is a proper space rock album which has a definite emphasis on some big, punchy choruses. It’s still got some folk elements but there’s a big jazz influence too. The guest musicians we’re working with this time are fantastic and from all over the world ... a jazz sax player, Czech flute players. It’s all coming together into a really rich sound!

After this album, I begin work straight away on an orchestral score for Tokyo-based author and old friend Paul Ewen. The idea is to create an OST for his upcoming novel “What Happens On The 25th”... mainly because I really want to write a song that has a 7-part bassoon disco breakdown.

Other than that , I have a lot more free music planned for release via the website which will include an updated fan sampler EP that will contain some exclusive tracks that didn’t make the album as well as some new planned video content for YouTube aficionados.


Thanks to Dean Marsh and Luke Severn of Gandalf’s Fist

 

 
   
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