Back in 2017, Georgia-based singer-songwriter and keyboard virtuoso Arthur Offen released his critically-acclaimed solo debut entitled Seven Wonders. Debut album is a slightly misleading term, especially in light of the fact that Arthur’s musical history dates way back to the early 1970s, all the way back to the beginning and his early band Air Raid – a band that he co-created around 1973 with guitar ace Rick Hinkle. That overlooked Air Raid album was produced by Jimi Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer. Sad to say, Air Raid was a short lived prog-rock phenomenon having released just that one album back in 1981. Following three albums with the band Flag in the 1990s and early 2000's Arthur then resurfaced as a solo artist in 2017, and he truly delivered the goods with Seven Wonders. In the wake of Seven Wonders, Arthur is back on track making musical history again with Freedom Ring, the 2021 album written and recorded with the recently reformed Air Raid group.
Clocking in at 45 minutes, each of the seven tracks on Freedom Ring features Arthur’s deeply resonating baritone lead vocals, while bombarding the listener’s sonic sensibilities with a vast array of symphonic sounding synth keyboards and much more, topped off by his trademark grand piano sound. On Air Raid’s Freedom Ring, Offen is joined by guitarist / engineer / co-producer and original Air Raid co-founder Rick Hinkle and drummer Jimmy Porter. James Cobb is also credited as writing the song “A Place In The Northland”, featured as track 5 on Freedom Ring. Originally planned for release in 2020, and with the CD pressing tragically held up because of the global pandemic, the all-new Air Raid album Freedom Ring finally arrived on CD the summer of 2021, just in time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first Air Raid album. Freedom Ring is an astounding sounding album mixing progressive rock with a tasteful dose of Arthur’s singer-songwriter based lyrics that was expertly mixed and mastered to sonic perfection by Tom Waltz in Upstate New York.
As cool as Seven Wonders is, the 2021 release of Freedom Ring is an even more mind-blowing excursion into the land of new prog-rock. Packed with tight musicianship, hard-rock energy and insightful songwriting, the seven track, 45 minute Freedom Ring album more than fits the bill as a groundbreaking album in the realm of early 21st century prog-rock. As Arthur details on his web site, every track on this impressive Air Raid comeback has a unique, sometimes over-the-top story behind it; for example the lead off track “Air Raid” actually dates back to 1973. Reading along with the song lyrics, the song “Air Raid” is surely one of the best prog-rock meets hard-rock tracks of 2021 yet each and every track on Freedom Ring has something to offer progressive music fans, including a massive, grand scale, six-part, 20-minute magnum opus entitled "Lost Horizon" which was inspired by the James Hilton book of the same name from the 1930's. Even with millions of music listeners simply downloading sound files these days, it’s worth noting that the expansive CD packaging is an eye-opening beauty with multi-panel artwork, complete lyrics, and historic liner notes by Arthur providing insights into the production and history of Air Raid’s Freedom Ring. Highly recommended to hard-rock and prog-rock fans.
mwe3.com presents an interview with
mwe3: At first I didn’t fully grasp the scope and dynamic of Air Raid. I perceived it as your follow up to your 2017 solo album Seven Wonders. Tell us about the dynamic of working with Rick Hinkle and Jimmy Porter on the new Air Raid Freedom Ring album and other albums like the Flag albums and your solo album.
Arthur Offen: There will never be another Air Raid like the original band that worked together from mid 1973 through the end of 1981. We were indeed a formidable quartet. As I have said in losing drummer Rick Brown in 2000 and Tom Walker retiring from the Atlanta music scene long ago, Rick and I realized that Air Raid music was essentially the Les Paul / Marshall amp and grand piano up on top with a drummer and a bass player. I was taking over on bass chair and we had worked with Jimmy on Seven Wonders and it had gone well. I know Rick will always prefer a John Bonham approach but Jimmy Porter was very easy to work with and his considerable chops were always imaginative.
With the Flag albums I am playing all of the guitar and bass parts on Across the Stars. On Book Of Conquest I’m playing many of the guitars and all of the bass as well but Rick is playing everywhere as well. On Perihelion I’m playing all of the guitars and bass except Rick’s monster solo appearance in “A Winter’s Tale”. But Flag Book Of Conquest was recorded at Rick's studio and Perihelion was finished there as well. Rick and I are everywhere on Seven Wonders. He is never far from my work, ever! It has been my best friendship and collaboration except for Tom Waltz.
mwe3: I heard that the song “Air Raid” dates back to 1973? Did you write the entire song and can you compare the 2020 version with the original? Who else do you credit with the return of Air Raid and the Freedom Ring album? You add a lot of credits in the CD booklet. So how did you share the co-production of Freedom Ring with Rick Hinkle?
Arthur Offen: Rick and I produce pretty much everything together with Chris Cornish being a big part of the vocal production. Rick Hinkle is my lightning rod and I can always make a critical decision when needed with him there. A lot of great people have always helped along the way. The credits are the place to recognize and commend! Freedom Ring happened because Rick and I made a very specific plan and blueprint about how to approach it. As far as the "Air Raid" song goes some forty years later, it’s in its complete original form. The big difference was Rick wanting to be the rhythm guitarist and made me take all of the lead work. Those were wonderful days!
mwe3: Is “Let Your Freedom Ring” about the current political climate? We’ve always leaned on music to get us through hard times, like during the Vietnam era. Also, tell us about the vocal arrangement of that song. Who is singing with you on that track? You credit Susan Bennett as contributing backing vocals on that track and a couple other. There are some spectacular harmony vocals on that track. The album’s title song is pretty self-explanatory yet it’s open for various interpretations too right? Plus Rick’s wah-way guitar soloing is excellent too. The song is so cool so I guess you wanted to extend it to the album title too correct?
Arthur Offen: I had the chorus for “Let Your Freedom Ring” for a very long time and I was looking for a way to get the verses going somehow. When the Stoneman Douglas High School shootings happened, I was furious! Apoplectic! The public reactions to those brave young people sent me through the roof. At the same time a disgusting conman and his corrupt administration had truly “let the hate Genie out the vial” so from 2016 on America had become a much darker place and we were so divided against one another more than ever that I had to speak up Kantner style!
I saw a great speech by Steve Biko where he was shouting “Freedom Ring” as he finished. It stuck with me. That is where the title came from. I am so glad this album comes out finally with a new administration and a new sense of hope across the land despite the pandemic. Is it the lead off song? Let’s say it’s a good match up. Finally, I got the girl singer I have always wanted. That’s Susan Bennett on top with me singing the parts below her. She is amazing and works so fast. What a blend! She’s a star in her own right as she is and will always be the original voice of Siri! We’re very old friends and us singing together is a real treat…
Arthur Offen: I think about my influences all of the time. Gary Brooker and Paul Kantner are still my Gods! If that takes you there, I think it’s a wonderful thing… I wrote it having just been let go from a very successful Atlanta band. I was nursing a very ‘Me against the World’ hurt and attitude. though months later having started to work with Air Raid I showed them the song and they loved it! I was very surprised indeed. I’ve had many people tell me how much they related to the words and mood of the song which is very touching for me to hear. Loneliness and the isolation of depression can be life shattering... so if anyone out there can hear another voice including mine that might understand and assist in any way then I’m very happy the song is here.
mwe3: I thought “Derby Day” was about a horse race! Does the song evoke sort of the fall of the Roman Empire? Are you comparing these modern times to another era in history? Caesar, Chariot wheels and executioners and sole survivors. If I didn’t know better I was thinking emperors fiddling while Rome burns!
Arthur Offen: “Derby Day” was already written when I came to what became Air Raid. At the time ‘mashup’ was not a description used for what is happening here. Mash up as an art form really took hold in the digital age. But yes, it is a scene in my head as far back as my first year of college. First, I always loved the story of Daniel and his blind adoring faith in the den of the lions. The Roman arena and the chariot race of Ben Hur and that ilk has never left my thoughts for long. I had one line, “In the arena at the jaws of the lion” and I was off and away. We played it in the early Air Raid days but at some point, around 1975, I threw out a lot of music and brought in new work. A song from that time like “Derby Day” was put on the back burner as I was in a hurry to give the band newer and better choices. When I returned to it in late summer 2018, I remembered it fondly and realized I had a chariot race, Daniel and the lions, a full blown polo match, and a blood thirsty madman on the throne, vultures waiting for flesh, me and my men storming the tower and on and on… A total mashup! I’m glad I did find a way to include ‘no soldier will ever leave you behind.’ God bless our troops.
mwe3: “A Place In The Northland” kind of reminded me of YES and plus you have that booming voice like Chris Squire was known for. You mentioned James Cobb wrote that song. How did you decide to bring that song to Freedom Ring? It’s a short song at just over three minutes yet it’s quite effective and also highly atmospheric as well. What else can you tell us about James Cobb and his influence on your music and Air Raid?
Arthur Offen: Whew! Where do I start? Chris Cornish, Jim Cobb and I come from an early 1970’s era band called Radar. We were lucky enough to open for many of the stars of the day including The Allman Brothers on many southern dates, Jefferson Airplane and kicking off the second Atlanta Pop festival in Byron, Georgia. Jimmy Cobb and I were the main songwriters and we had a great following and a ton of creative music. With the coming of English progressive rock and the ever growing rock era upon us we fractured in direction under the pressure of delivering great live shows and I was the odd man out for good reasons. We are still very close and he and the rest of the Radar family will always be my dear friends. Jim wrote “A Place In The Northland” when he was 19 in 1970! That he wrote this piece at such a young age is staggering in every way but it’s perfection in songcraft, structure and easy going visual grandeur render it nothing less than the tour de force it still is today. It is one of the finest modern rock compositions I have heard. Ever…
When I went on to Air Raid he was enthusiastic that we play it. Air Raid opened every show we ever played with it! We felt sure it would be on our first album though sadly it was not to be. Jim and I were close in the days before went left for Connecticut to record the Air Raid album with Eddie. He wrote the brass arrangement for “Longships” and lived around the corner from me at that time. He left to hit the road with his band Starbuck as they were huge at the time. He was my great friend and partner in those day. I’ll never forget those times! I was 30 years old. In later years, Jim has left the Rock & Roll world for his symphonies. There are five that I know of. His incandescent genius continues to shine on. He is a tireless worker and a brilliant commentary writer. I know as I write he is out on the heights of his symphonic frontier exploring ever farther and farther. Genius!
mwe3: “A Place In The Northland” is followed by the magnum opus on Freedom Ring entitled “Lost Horizon”. Tell us about discovering “Lost Horizon”, which was a 1933 novel by James Hilton as well as a 1937 film by Frank Capra. Capra was quite a hero of the silver screen back then. What inspired you to bring “Lost Horizon”, the book or the movie, to light again and is there a moral in the Air Raid magnum opus to make it relevant to modern times? I know there was also a 1973 version of the movie as well, so the story / film has survived nearly 90 years already.
Arthur Offen: I was inspired to return to “Lost Horizon” by simply writing ‘Planetary Wanderer, You know this world is now your Lost Horizon’. That song was written in 1974 with different lyrics. I’ve always loved its wide screen Jerry Goldsmith style lines. I never forgot it and one day in 2017 paging through my old beat up hard back I sang the first line and re-thought the tale told in a distant future. I had written “Black Ship Landing” when we were recording up in Sharon, Connecticut in the summer of 1980. So, it had always been with me especially the big orchestra beginning. All of that was ready to go. I just stored it away until we got to “Lost Horizon” as a real undertaking in 2018! When I rehearsed it with Jimmy in Myrtle beach he totally understood and it really came alive. Never forget Jimmy Porter is an incredible pianist with killer technique! He can read my mind as a drummer with his own piano intuition. Rick was so important for getting my ideas down. His conducting, production ideas and constant help as to how to play these pieces was so important.
mwe3: The Air Raid version of “Lost Horizon” is quite an orchestral magnum opus along the lines of “Close To The Edge”. I realize it’s an extensive piece and it’s quite effective. The “Planetary Wanderer” intro to the song is very YES-inspired too. How does the first part set the scene and is there a correlation to the book as an intro?
Arthur Offen: I think have answered this question in some ways. “Close To The Edge” is the finest example of the long-piece format. YES certainly honed and polished it to perfection in a way no other band had ever done before. I am incredibly grateful to my many fans that they still appreciate the long form pieces that interest me and so many other talented song writers out there. I truly hope they enjoy my new offering. I don’t want to fill in too much of my side of things as their own inner vision will supply worlds far beyond my reach.
I don’t presume to know what James Hilton saw or heard in his head though the threat of Nazi Germany was on everyone’s mind at that point. The introduction I wrote was an attempt to put a mood together that would be indicative of the epic adventure that was up ahead. I was shocked to find that the finished piece fully assembled had become a nineteen minute journey! I somehow never saw it coming…
mwe3: Part 2 of “Lost Horizon” on the new Air Raid album, “Black Ship Landing” has some incredible strings. What keyboards are you using on that part of “Lost Horizon”? It sounds like a full orchestra! “Black Ship Landing” has a great momentum to it. Is that the part in the book where the plane crashes? You have to forgive me as I have not seen the movie or read the book and I was introduced to it on the Air Raid CD. I was just wondering if the entire suite follows the story line more or less.
Arthur Offen: No, not in the book’s concrete terms. It was a story of escape from a fascist regime. I just took the idea of a world out of time that re-unites a young pilgrim, though he doesn’t really know he’s a pilgrim, with a holy man who has been waiting a long time for his return. All I have really done was put everything in place in hope that the listener will fill in the all of the world building.
As for the other part of your question all of the orchestra parts were done with MOTU real instrument samples played on a controller. Nothing in my story ‘crashes’ but yes “Black Ship Landing” is written from the perspective of territorial air born guardians seeing the saucers coming in for a landing from the clouds. You can hear Mini Moog, Prophet V, Hammond, and vocoder effect for the saucer Klaxon. Yet all of the orchestra stuff is done with MOTU and an Omnisphere program.
Arthur Offen: “Walk The Streets A God” is exactly that. What do you do when an enormous saucer quietly lands at the edge of your town? You go out to meet them and in this case the visitors are respectful and eager for friendship. Their walk with this race of people leads the story onward toward “A Bridge of Gates” and the entrance to a city/ temple compound. I was very excited about “Walk The Streets A God” in its rock groove as well as the lyrics. For me, the poem for this piece was a favorite and I was constantly tweaking it right to the final singing track.
mwe3: There’s a great instrumental interlude before “A Bridge Of Gates”, which Rick zinging off some great licks and leads. “A Bridge Of Gates” is my favorite part of the suite. It’s so evocative, very Squire-esque in scope. How does “A Bridge Of Gates” fit into the “Lost Horizon” story line? Plus, what keyboards are giving those Wakeman-esque trumpets and fanfare?
Arthur Offen: I wrote that intro a few times before and showed Rick the piece on the album. He liked it better than any of my previous attempts so I’m glad he felt strongly about it. Everybody will get to see a side of his playing that hasn’t been heard on any of my other work. That is a MOTU violin and also Rick on acoustic as well. “A Bridge Of Gates” turned out very well in deed but it was a lot of work and an enormous amount of shifting gears in how to put it together in such a way that it was a bit more intimate and reflective. I worked on the bass part a great deal as did Rick on his amazing Les Paul parts.
It was recorded in three separate parts and I never heard it assembled until the eleventh hour when Tom Waltz and I carefully put it together for the final mix. I had always thought it would end up a strong addition to the movement and progress of the story. This poem was great fun to put together as our intrepid visitors cross a long pathway where the world they witness has been unshackled from the constraints of time. I would prefer to let the poetry tell the journey rather than use any of my descriptions. So now we have part one which was simply called “Part 1’ and then ‘Part 2’, the body of the song and then ‘Part 3’ “The Incantation”.
mwe3: Part 5 “The Incantation” is just that, a kind of incantation, a series of words to evoke a kind of magic spell? The keyboards are amazing sounding on that track. Could you shine a further light on the various keyboards you are featuring throughout the “Lost Horizon” suite?
Arthur Offen: Look up to see his face. Tell the shinning one what is in your heart. That is all that could possibly be expected of you in the presence of the divine. The keyboards here are a pipe organ program that I’ve used for years and a Hammond as well. The brass section here and everywhere on the album is MOTU brass.
mwe3: How does “A Hundred Years Or More” close the “Lost Horizon” suite? It seems very epic sounding as a closing. Does it speak of rebirth or reincarnation? What is the message you would like to impart to the listener regarding the “A Hundred Years Or More” part of “Lost Horizon”?
Arthur Offen: “A Hundred Years Or More” is a wrap up of the events that followed. I realized I had quite a bit of storytelling left to do though I finally got the lyrics not to sound like I was in a rush. Yes, his ship returns for him as was promised. He was never left behind. The saucer gone only a number of days returns to find their crewman unchanged though many decades have passed. The ship returns to the stars leaving the planet pristine and unchanged. Promises were kept, much was learned and love was shared. The teaching here is... be ready to be loved, work hard to live the best life that you can and treat all you encounter with respect and decency. Then ‘Go and find your heart its home’
Arthur Offen: A ’holiday’ vibe? Hmmm, I'm not sure I understand your meaning. The creation of “The Silvering” as a poem was an important time for me as several other piece’s I had already written plus others of late were coming together as a volume of poetry for the future. Rick had, in his wisdom, pointed out that the album very much needed a ‘closer’. Something that would bring all of the adventure and change, darkness and light, together for a final classical bow from all concerned. That’s what I set out to do. I turned “The Silvering” into a grand farewell for the moment. We got a great track on it and it certainly bids all the very best on their journey with its words.
mwe3: In a world with so many great artists and albums coming out left, right and center, how can you further bring Freedom Ring to the attention of music fans? Are you releasing a track as a single and will there be a video from the album? I guess live performances are more challenging now than ever. Are you happy with the internet model of live videos and do you see online concerts as a wave of the future?
Arthur Offen: Well, of course I’m doing as much as I can to get the word out on this album. I’m sure we thought the pandemic would come under control this year but with the variant lurking on the horizon it seems that things are a bit up in the air again. I am in talks about a video at the moment but no definite word as yet.
The digital age of music and times we are living are still very much being re-invented as we speak. I know that the technology for live venues is out of this world and that live sound and the new gear behind it is better than ever before. We’ll have to wait and see how committed the human race, especially Americans, can get behind the science to end the plague so we can be together again.
mwe3: You mentioned a possible remaster of the first Air Raid album from 1980-81. What is the plan for that as well as other upcoming developments from you including your future plans for the rest of 2021? Any last comments to the Air Raid fans for future times?
Arthur Offen: The 1980 Air Raid album is most definitely getting a re-masted and restored packaging and should be finished by the first of next year. The new master is already done and sounds incredible. This project is a labor of love and long overdue. I’ll keep all posted as to progress and development here at mwe3.com I want to thank all the fans of the group worldwide! My greatest hope is that this new album will have been well worth the wait and will hold up to our past work and set a new course for Air Raid and all of my music to come!