(Telergy Music)


Multi-instrumentalist / guitarist and composer Robert McClung returns in 2015 with a new Telergy album called Hypatia. Telergy loves a musical challenge and the subject of of Hypatia is about the ancient Greek scholar Hypatia of Alexandria. With the odd numbered tracked retelling stories of her recorded wisdom, the even numbered tracks are lengthy instrumental rock fusion jams that simply spark with energy and ideas. One of the year's best albums of instrumental progressive rock, Hypatia features Robert McClung backed up in the studio by a number of world class musicians including Oliver Wakeman and Oliver Palotai (keyboards), David Ragsdale and Anna Phoebe (violins), along with string players, bassists and drummers and all sorts of musicians from bands such as Supertramp, Kansas, Jethro Tull, Symphony X and more. Speaking to about his musical mission in Telergy, McClung explains, "I think the statement I try to make with every Telergy album is similar. The way humans treat each other is often a travesty. The Israelites, Goody Cole, Hypatia… These were all people who did nothing wrong. Yet they were persecuted, enslaved, tortured and murdered. I would like to hope that by examining these histories, people can start to examine what it truly means to be human, and stop hurting each other." In addition to featuring his compositional skills, Hypatia is also a solid showcase for McClung’s guitar chops, which are very much steeped in the finest traditions of progressive rock and hard rock. Some of the riffing here would quickly appeal to fans of Deep Purple and Dixie Dregs and world class bands specializing in instro-metal music. Depicting a fascinating story line, the superstar strewn Hypatia is everything a prog-rock record should be. presents an interview with
Robert McClung of TELERGY

: Where are you from originally and where do you live now and how would you best describe it? Tell us about life up in New Hampshire. Is winter on the way?

Robert McClung: I was originally born in Ohio, but my family moved to New Hampshire when I was young. I feel very blessed that I live in, what I feel is, one of the most beautiful and diverse places in the world. I live right on the ocean. The beach is my back yard. I’m only a two hour drive from the mountains. And only a forty five minute drive from the great city of Boston. There is an abundance of art and culture, and music scene is thriving! I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Although, being in this area does come at a price, and winter is indeed on the way. Last year was particularly harsh. We were hit with blizzard-like storms several weeks in a row. There was so much snow we ran out of places to put it. Every parking lot had massive mountains of snow at the end. We lost many days of school and public transportation, any transportation really, came to a total standstill. Everyone is hoping things go smoother this year. Fingers crossed.

mwe3: What inspired you to do a kind of instrumental rock opera, complete with spoken word story, about the Greek goddess Hypatia? Telergy is renowned for bringing up legends like Goody Cole and now Hypatia. What kind of statement did Telergy set out to make with Hypatia? Why do you think Hypatia and Goody Cole met such a violent end? It’s quite a mythical undertaking. How did you research and assemble the story?

Robert McClung: Just to clarify your question, Hypatia was not a Greek goddess. She was an actual person. A mathematician, philosopher, astronomer and teacher living in Roman controlled Alexandria, Egypt around the year 400 AD.

The story of Hypatia was a suggestion from a friend. After doing a little reading on the subject I decided it fit the framework for what I do perfectly. So I dove right in.

I do a lot of research for every album. Reading as much as I can find and consulting with experts. The story of Goody Cole happened right in my home town. So I had tremendous help and support from the local historical society, which gave me access to hundreds of year’s worth of documents, and lots of
background information. For Hypatia, I had the help of Australian Professor Michael A.B. Deakin, who wrote the definitive biography of Hypatia. He was very integral in helping me arrange the story in a logical way.

I think the statement I try to make with every Telergy album is similar. The way humans treat each other is often a travesty. The Israelites, Goody Cole, Hypatia… These were all people who did nothing wrong. Yet they were persecuted, enslaved, tortured and murdered. I would like to hope that by examining these histories people can start to examine what it truly means to be human, and stop hurting each other.

mwe3: How did you decide who you wanted to play on the Hypatia tracks with you? For example Oliver Wakeman. Did Oliver perform his part in the U.K.? There’s quite a lot of musicians, it’s like a rock orchestra! How did you get them all in sync with the Hypatia album?

Robert McClung: I choose each player based on their individual skills. As I write I sometimes think “This part would be great for……”. So I reach out to that person and ask if they want to do it. Luckily for me, they usually say yes.

Yes, Oliver recorded his parts in his home studio in the U.K. And it was a great honor to collaborate with him. Most of the musicians who live out of my area recorded their parts in their own studios, or in studios near them. Musicians who live local to me recorded at my studio here in New Hampshire.

Getting everyone “in sync” is a challenge. But technology is on our side. I send out sheet music, in the form of PDF files, and audio files, WAV files, of the basic tracks. The musicians record their segments and send back the audio files of their part. Then I mix it all together. It’s like musical legos.

mwe3: What does Hypatia, the person, mean to you? It seems like bad things happened to both Goody Cole and Hypatia. Is that par for the course for Telergy albums? Focusing on the underdogs and the persecuted, Telergy always likes the big biblical productions so maybe you should take Hypatia to Broadway.

Robert McClung: Yes. Hypatia, Goody Cole, and the Israelites were all persecuted in horrible ways. I just try to pick stories that fit well within the style of music I write, which is big and epic in scope. So the story requires a good deal of drama. I don’t think a story about people who only had happy good things happen to them would make a good rock album.

Yeah, a live stage production of any of the Telergy albums would be really cool. Wish I had the money and connections to make that happen.

mwe3: Tell us about your start on the guitar. What was your first guitar and in what order did you learn all the other instruments that you play on the CD? It sounds like you have a pretty extensive knowledge of music harmony too. Did you do all the orchestrations on the Hypatia album?

Robert McClung: I was given my first guitar by my grandfather when I was ten years old. It was a Martin acoustic. My first electric was a Synsonics with a built in amplifier I bought at Toys ‘R’ Us with money I earned from my paper route. I’m sure my neighbors just loved hearing me walking down the street blasting out AC/DC riffs on it! (lol)

No idea what order I learned things in. Guitar was first. I had drum lessons in grade school. Picked up some piano then too. Bass, mandolin and violin came soon after. Most of the instruments I learned out of necessity. A part had to be done and there was nobody to do it. So I just picked up the instrument and figured it out myself.

For me, all stringed instruments are essentially the same. Just variations on the same Pythagorean theory. You have a string stretched across two points tuned to a certain pitch. Placing your finger on the string at different points and plucking or bowing it changes the notes. The size of the instrument, the number of strings and the tuning may change from one instrument to another. But the basic concept is all the same.

Yes, I have an extensive knowledge of music theory. I make my living as a music teacher in both public and private schools. For me, knowledge of music theory is essential to what I do. Not just as a composer, but as a communicator. I have to communicate with dozens of other musicians who play many different instruments. Without the ability to read music and understand theory, I wouldn’t be able to communicate my ideas to them.

I do as much of the orchestrations as I can myself. But I don’t play every instrument in the orchestra. I could do it all with synths and samples, but real people always sound better. Special acknowledgment here to all the incredible orchestra musicians I have the pleasure of working with. They may not be as famous as some of the other people who are involved in Telergy projects, but they are every bit as important!

But whether I’m playing at all is irrelevant. In fact, there are a couple Telergy tracks I’m not playing on whatsoever, even thought I composed them. It’s all about what’s best for the music. If I’m in the way I’m happy to step aside and let others shine.

mwe3: What guitars did you record the Hypatia album with? What are your favorites guitars, amps and strings and effects also? What lap steel guitar are you playing on the CD? What keyboards are you into playing these days too?

Robert McClung: For acoustic guitars, I play Taylors exclusively. I have five of them. Three six strings, a twelve string and a nylon string. They are incredible. For electrics there’s a bunch of things. Several highly modified Fender Strats, a Paul Reed Smith, a few Deans, including a 12 string electric, a Washburn 7 String and a beautiful Epiphone 335 hollow body. Each guitar has its own feel and color. So I just try to pick the one that fits the part the best.

The lap steel is an old Fender. There’s also a Spector five string bass, a Fender Precision bass, a few mandolins, a few ukuleles, several violins, including my custom made Mark Wood six string electric viper, a balalaika and a sitar. It’s hard to walk through the house without bumping into an instrument.

For amps I use a use a Mesa Boogie DC-5 and a Marshall JCM-800. I run those in conjunction with various Line 6 amp mods. I like a Bogner, a Vox AC-30 and a Roland Jazz Chorus. For effects, I primarily stick to the Line 6 for chorus, delay, ‘verb stuff these days. I have a Rocktron Replifex but it’s been collecting dust for a while. I also use a Pro-Co Rat, an Ibanez Tube Screamer, a Crybaby wah, a Rocktron talk box, a Digitech Whammy pedal and an Ebow. For strings I use D’addario exclusively. Various gauges.

For keyboards I’m not nearly as interesting. I just use one universal MIDI controller keyboard, tied into various VST sample synths. I have hundreds of them. Too many to mention…

mwe3: Who and what were some of your most important musical and other influences? What era of progressive rock and rock did you grow up in and what bands kind of spurred you on musically, to want to make your own music?

Robert McClung: I was born in 1973. So my first introduction to prog was the bands from that era. Genesis, YES, King Crimson, Rush, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind and Kansas. When I was in high school I got into metal. Which is where influences like Queensryche, King’s X, Dream Theater and Savatage came in. It’s quite a thrill to now work with musicians involved with those bands.

I guess I wanted to make my own music because I had something to say? And much of what gets popular on the radio is usually pretty dull. I always had a vision in my mind for something much grander. More intricate. More powerful. A lot of people thought I was nuts when I told them what I wanted to do. But here we are doing this interview, so I guess I wasn’t that crazy after all?

mwe3: What are some of high points for you on Hypatia? For instance on track 2, “Philosopher” is quite effective at setting the album’s tone. It almost sounds like a George Martin type James Bond theme or something! Very dramatic and action sounding stuff. Was Hypatia an astronomer too? It’s amazing how she knew about the planets in 400 AD! Who played with you on that track?

Robert McClung: Asking me to pick favorites is a little bit like asking what child I like best! (lol) Yes, “Philosopher” is great. I think I also did well with “The Burning Of The Library Of Alexandria”. The rock band and the orchestra fuse together really well on that track.

I think if I had to pick an absolute favorite it would be “Martyr”, the cello duet. We recorded it live, in a hundred year old cathedral, at midnight. To hear two amazing cellists like Kristen Miller and Adam Nunes playing a piece I wrote in that setting was magical for me.

Yes, Hypatia was indeed an astronomer. She studied ellipses and the movements of the planets. Revolutionary stuff for the time, and way ahead of other scientists, like Copernicus, who get the credit for things she may have actually discovered centuries before. Such a shame that so much of her work was lost.

mwe3: The Hypatia album art by Ed Unitsky is very cool too. How about that back cover art? I presume that’s alluding to “The Burning Of The Library Of Alexandria”. Is that a painting? It’s harrowing stuff. Seems like the human race has always had wars.

Robert McClung: Yes, it’s a painting, by Thomas Cole called “The Course Of Empire”. It’s on display at the New York Historical Society.

Ed Unitsky did an amazing job with the artwork. I’m so glad I was able to get him involved. The first two Telergy album covers were done by my now ex-wife. She is very talented and did a great job. The cover of The Exodus was all hand painted. And the cover of The Legend of Goody Cole is very haunting. The shrouded woman leaning over the stone on the cover is actually her.

But when it came time for artwork for Hypatia, she was out of the picture and I needed to find someone else. Ed came in and just nailed it. The parchment, the drawing, the fire, the new logo. It’s perfect. I think people wanted the t-shirts with Ed’s art just as much as they wanted the actual album! (lol) I look forward to having Ed do future Telergy album covers. He’s the best!

mwe3: In addition to the guitars, you have a very intriguing group of instruments that you play yourself including lap steel and sitar. What tracks did you feature those instruments on? How hard is it really to play the sitar? How many instruments do you play?

Robert McClung: The sitar can be heard on “Teacher”, backing up the Oud, played by Mac Ritchey. The lap steel is on another section of that same tune.

Yes, an original acoustic Indian sitar is very hard to play. Just holding it properly is challenging and cumbersome. But I play a more modern electric sitar. Similar to a guitar, but with a Jawari sitar bridge and many extra drone strings added. They were originally made in the 1960’s by Danelectro, due to the popularity of songs using a sitar recorded by the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Over the years few different companies like Jerry Jones and Rogue have copied the design.

I’ve lost track of how many instruments I play. I’ll try anything I can get my hands on. And if I can’t figure it out, I can always find someone else to do it.

mwe3: What interests do you have outside of music and what other plans are you looking at in 2016?

Robert McClung: I have little time for anything outside of music. I work a lot and I don’t even own a couch or a television. But when I do find a spare moment I enjoy movies, theater, museums, flea markets, fairs... But those moments are few and far between.

I’ll begin work on another Telergy album soon. Right now I’m working with a few historians on finding the right story. Once I have that set in stone I’ll begin the process. Can’t say when it might be done. I’m in no hurry. It will be done whenever it is done. These things can’t be rushed…


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