Lo scorso settembre ho realizzato un'intervista con i Lines in the Sky per il numero di novembre della rivista PROG Italia dopo aver scoperto la band attraverso il terzo album Beacon. L'articolo serviva per presentare il gruppo al pubblico italiano e riprendeva le parti salienti di quell'intervista. In occasione dell'uscita del nuovo singolo Thalassophobia ho deciso di pubblicarne la versione integrale nella quale rispondono i tre componenti Bowman Brock (batteria), Jesse Brock (chitarra) e Ben McAnelly (basso).
What are the origins of LITS?
Bowman: Jesse and I jamming together as kids, then deciding on a whim that we were a band.
Jesse: LITS began when Bowman was in middle school and I was in high school in the small town in which we were raised near Nashville. Initially it was just us jamming and learning our instruments. Eventually we recruited some of our friends and it became more of a band. We weren’t trying to be prog in the beginning. Our music at the time was similar to Coldplay and The Killers, kind of mainstream alternative rock. We also had a different name, which is lost to time. Lines In The Sky was a song title that was mistaken as our band name in a local newspaper article. After that was published, we saw no reason to return to the original name.
I began listening to post rock. From this influence, we integrated a lot of ambient guitar into our sound. We were also listening to a ton of Meshuggah. Though we didn’t play nearly as heavy as they do, we incorporated a lot of their rhythmic concepts into our music. We took these newer influences and blended them into contemporary framework. The outcome of this mishmash was something that sounded vaguely progressive. Since we were already in that realm, we decided to add more progressive riffs reminiscent of BTBAM and Rush. So by the time we released Hilasterion, we had developed a musical palette comprised of heavy, ambient, progressive, and contemporary elements.
Bowman: There is no evident concept behind the albums. Most of the lyrics are about pretty depressing topics such as anger, or being betrayed by a trusted friend.
Jesse: We never intentionally had a central theme for any of our albums. However, there are emergent themes that are reflective of our lives during the writing processes. If I had to sum it up, I would say the most prevalent of these themes is ‘struggle’. As young adults we are faced with rapid change and uncertainty. Every year of my 20’s has been radically different than the prior year and trying to establish contact with oneself is already difficult, maybe more so because of the current upheaval social and political realms. On the Hilasterion and Parallel Travel albums, this manifests itself on the subjects of love, relationships, trust, stability, etc. Beacon takes these ideas and explores them with several additional years of understanding. The band experienced a great deal (no pun intended) between those two records. With Beacon, I was able to put some of the struggle to rest that was featured on the prior albums. It’s almost trite to say it this way, but I see some of the lyrics as a journey. Songs like ‘I Had A Dream That Everything Broke’ lead to songs like ‘Parallel Travel’ and ‘Ancient Insult’ in the context of relationship dynamics. I have arrived at a place of peace with those elements of my past and I am ready to move on.
Of course political commentary is featured on Beacon. I identify as a centrist and because of media and bandwagoning in the west, people often try to categorize me into the left or right. This is simultaneously annoying, petty, and narrow-minded. ‘Teeth’, ‘Beacon’, and ‘A Great Deal’ are exemplars of that frustration. It is also worth noting that those songs are written to reflect different times and temperaments regarding political alignment. In particular, I like to think of ‘Teeth’ and ‘Beacon’ as a turbulent journey from youthful edgy beliefs to a more knowledgeable headspace. I would never condone violence because of an ideology. However, the feeling is all too familiar when emotions run high. For me, and hopefully for many other people, this angst has been released and the time to move on has arrived. In that sense, Beacon has been a transition in many ways and it has opened the door to new lyrical realms.
Your first two albums were mixed by Tim Palmer which, in addition to working with Pearl Jam, U2 and Robert Plant, he also has experience in prog rock for mixing Porcupine Tree In Absentia and Dredg El Cielo. How it was working with him?
Jesse: Tim Palmer is a grade A human being. He is responsible for mixes on some incredibly important songs and it was truly an honor to have him involved with those two records. I was very new to audio engineering at the time and I learned a ton from listening to what he did on our records. Talking to him helped me realize a common mistake that young musicians and engineers run into, ‘fixing things in the mix’. It is a never a good maxim to live by. Sometimes there is magic than can be done in the box but if it doesn’t sound good before it hits the microphone then you’re not going to have a good time. We went a different direction on mixing with Beacon but we would love to work with him again in the future. He did right by us and we are incredibly grateful for his willingness to accept those projects.
What’s the meaning of “prog” for you, to take elements from classic bands of the past and add a contemporary feel or a challenge to find your own original way?
Bowman: Prog is a term that can have several meanings. For me, it’s a type of experimental rock that delves into other genres by incorporating qualities of those styles into the rock sounds. For others, it means ⅞.
Ben: To me, all progressive really means is approaching something without being totally hindered by radio friendly constraints or structure. It’s a more experimental approach to writing. It could also be a result of enjoying left of center musical ideas, wherever that may come from.
Jesse: I think that integration is inherent in any writing process. As a band we don’t listen to prog exclusively. Bowman and Ben both love jazz and hip-hop and have a different approach to listening than I do. Personally, I find myself listening frequently to pop. I find it soothing and mind-numbing. Yet, the requisite creativity involved taps into something relatable to millions of fans. I have often talked about The Weeknd and how he was a beacon of inspiration for me when I was stuck in an experimental mire. He has created a platform that is vastly nuanced that resonates with many musicians. Studying his catalogue, as well as other massive contemporary artists, reveals many musical truths, if you will. He has been able to create something that resonates with both listeners and musicians. We strive to achieve a similar outcome with progressive rock.
That said, we are very aware of prog’s history and its current trajectory. It is important to recognize the impact of titans such as Rush, ELP, and King Crimson. However, we think that progressive music is at a place of reinvention and balance. Experimentation with contemporary ideas can yield interesting results. I can’t think of a better example than Rush when it comes to reinvention. As progressive musicians we have to listen to as much of the musical landscape as we can. So to sum it up, LITS incorporates elements from all genres into a framework that is technically proficient, accessible, and timeless.
Since your debut, you've gained a mature and well balanced sound as a trio. Have you ever considered adding instruments to your palette?
Bowman: Oh yes! This has been on the table for a very long time. Jesse loves to write two guitar parts, and I’ve been interested in adding a keys player or percussionist.
Ben: Ever since I’ve joined the band, we’ve occasionally thought about maybe grabbing a key player, but then I just play those parts instead, so there’s not really a need for another player in the band until we write something that requires a 4th player.
Jesse: We have toyed around with the idea of adding a second guitarist for some time. We’ve even brought people on stage to fill this role in the past. However, I think for the foreseeable future Bowman, Ben, and I will be the only players. This requires us to take our performance to a new level. We fill a lot of the spectrum with just three dudes and it’s not the easiest task. This past year I have started using a loop pedal for guitar and Ben has started to play keys. There are a few synths and sound effects in the backing tracks that further augment our live set as well. Recreating these songs live is a challenge. Based on feedback, we seem to be achieving the ‘big sound’ with just the three of us.
That said, it has always been a pipe dream of mine to have several auxiliary players. Things such as percussion, horns, acoustic, etc. This won’t be a regular thing, but it is possible that they may appear for a release show or some other special occasion.
Hilasterion and Parallel Travel were a brilliant example of accessible prog. With Beacon, it seems you have raised the technical bar. Do you think you’ll evolving in this direction in the future?
Bowman: To me the most important thing is the audience. The mistake that I think a lot of newer young prog bands make is getting carried away with playing the hardest and most complicated passages that it becomes about themselves. I’ve seen audiences get bored with this and leave shows feeling untouched. I think it is important to balance the band’s technical prowess with simpler passages that breathe. Sometimes less is more.
Ben: I actually feel like Beacon was simpler than Parallel Travel, and definitely simpler than Hilasterion. Learning Zack Wakefield’s parts on those records was rather tough, he’s a monster of a player and a writer. I think the sound will change as we go forward, but that just comes with changing and getting older as musicians.
Jesse: Beacon certainly pushed some musical boundaries. There were some incredibly difficult passages that we all had to practice vigorously. I think it’s safe to say that we will be raising the bar for our new material. There are lots of cool harmonic and rhythmic ideas that Bowman and Ben come up with that we are trying to incorporate. Personally I’m currently into harmony with stepwise motion and the illusion of irregular phrasing.
A lot of progressive bands get stuck writing in technical concepts. For example, the thump guitar technique is currently a congested area. You can create the coolest patterns but if they are not integrated in an arrangement they lose their impact. Sometimes people are so focused on a particular idea that they fail to get into that idea with the appropriate transition. It is our opinion that this the biggest issue with modern progressive music. Recently, there have been several critically acclaimed records that have succumbed to this flaw. While the playing is fantastic, the arrangements never truly arrive anywhere.
We have a high personal accountability in the band when it comes to our playing. Bowman has a saying, “finish the phrase”, that sums this up appropriately. On its face, it refers to musical awareness such as not blowing through a run or counting through a rest or evenness of rhythms. However, I think this refers to each song and the album as a whole. Personally, I feel like we nailed this on Beacon. Everything flowed exactly how I wanted it and it feels very even and complete. Our goal is to achieve this on every release.
Can you tell us something about the new album in the works?
Bowman: It is in progress….
Ben: It’s still in such a formative, amorphous stage that it’s hard to say where exactly it’ll land, but we’ll see!
Jesse: I don’t want to divulge too many details but here are a few…
Musically there are several genre boundaries that we would like to dip our toes into. We also had some moments on Beacon that stood out for us and we would like to extend those in some new material. Lyrically, we will see some new ground. The production team will be similar; expect Chris Baldani, Notelle, and Nick Lobel to return in some capacity. For all you prog purists, expect keyboards, haha. At this time, we have about 60% of the album conceptualized. It is being written at an accelerated rate compared to prior albums. I have been in a great headspace lately and the ideas have been pouring out. Expect to start seeing updates in the very near future.
The writing process will be different on this record. Both Bowman and Ben have some very time intensive commitments between now and early next year so there will be a substantial amount of file sharing and remote writing. However, it’s not unattainable to write a record this way. Good work can still be done in lieu of being in a room writing with your bandmates every day. The reality at this level of the music industry is that you have to stay busy to remain relevant, whatever your role is. The new Pineapple Thief record was done this way and they created something very special. We aim to work quickly and effectively in the same manner and release something compelling next year.