AN INTERVIEW WITH DOUGLAS DOCKER OF DOCKER’S GUILD

Having come up with a debut of supreme class, DOCKER’S GUILD mastermind Douglas Docker took time out from a busy schedule to answer questions on the creation of “The Mystic Technocracy”, his musical background and future endeavors.

Hi Douglas, thanks for agreeing to this interview, how are you doing today?

Very well! Thanks for having me here J

The debut album from Docker’s Guild has just been released by Lion Music. Getting a great review from us at V1 how has the album been doing elsewhere?

Yes, your review was one of the best and also one of the first reviews to arrive. Thanks for that! Most reviews since then have been of the same standard, the response has been overwhelming, which is a little humbling! I am very happy and very proud of how things are going.

Let’s go back to the start of your musical career, tell us about your musical upbringing and how your journey has led to the creation and formation of Docker’s Guild?

That is very long story, so I’ll try to keep it short. I started when I was 7, first as a classical pianist then violinist, until I graduated in classical piano in the ‘80s. In the meantime I discovered rock and lived the golden age of those amazing days. I eventually found myself in Hollywood where I joined Biloxi, an AOR band that had lots of success in the early ‘90s. Later I returned to school and became a researcher in ethnomusicology with a specialization in Thai ritual music and demon worship by Thai musicians. It’s a very metal thing to get involved with!

Docker’s Guild was born in 1990-1991 when I wrote most of the songs for Season 1. I kept writing and developing the story until it expanded into a 5 album project. It never came out because I never found the right partners, the general reaction in those days was rather scornful, and the musical environment very hostile to this kind of stuff. So I waited. Four years ago I finally decided the technology and the musical environment had become ripe to bring this project to its full conclusion.

“The Mystic Technocracy” is quite a body of work, a lot of intricate elements; lush arrangements and a big sound yet still very accessible with it.  How did the vision for the album come about?

Musically, I wrote the music I’d like to hear out there and rarely find. My main influences cover three directions: AOR (Journey, Asia), prog (Yes, ELP, early Dream Theatre, Threshold), and some more eclectic flavours (David Bowie, Duran Duran, JM Jarre and The Rockets). The music is complex, much more than it sounds, but it’s packaged into an AOR wrapping, so those that just want to enjoy great melodies don’t have to dig too deep. But for those that like aural challenges, there is a lot of intellectual musical playing under the vocals. Odd meters, atonal sections, non-triadic harmonies. A lot of thought was put into all this.

Can you give our readers a basic premise of the concept of the album?

The main concept is the result of a simple observation that has been hounding me since I was 20. Why have people been murdering each other for 4000 years in the name a God no one has ever seen and for three religions that are supposed to be founded on love and compassion. Something is just not right. I plugged this premise into a science fiction story and the rest developed from there.

This is season 1 of a 5 part story correct?

Yep, with a few surprises along the way 😉

Are the future season’s written or just ideas in your head at this point?

Musically, Season 2 is about 70% written, season 4 and 5 about 20%. Season 3 is going to be very obscure and experimental, it is planned but not written yet. Regarding the story, I know the beginning, the middle and the end in great detail, some parts still need to be fleshed out, but I am very clear about how and where I want to bring this.

The assembled cast of musicians is highly impressive, yet unlike a lot of albums which have a lot of guest musicians it seems you had a clear vision of what you wanted from each artist.  It all works quite fluidly, how did you go about dividing up the parts and deciding on who would suit what?

Thank you, it’s been a real honour to have these great musicians and singers on board. Well, first of all I like to give myself rules, little challenges and see where they take me. The first rule was that the singers all had to be AOR stars, I wanted to see what they could do with prog. That gave a highly melodic approach to the whole thing. Most of the musicians were chosen in a similar way. I also let each singer choose on which song they wanted to sing, that helped in making each voice fit the part.

Give our readers an overview of the other musicians involved and also perhaps a little of what you felt they uniquely gave the album?

I was able to convince most of the artists just through the strength of the preproduction demos. I didn’t know any of them basically. The exceptions being Tony Franklin, with whom I had worked in LA in the ‘90s, Magnus Jacobson who is great friend of mine and who introduced me to Goran Edman. The rest was hard work and a lot of typing!

I am very happy with all their performances; they contributed well beyond the call of duty. The rhythm section is thundering, Guthrie’s guitar is just unbelievable, and the singers perfect. They brought this strange mixture of metal, prog rock, AOR and intelligent pop that makes the album unique.

Was it a daunting prospect pulling in all these different performances?

Yes! I was terrified at first. The worst part of the project was opening and listening to files, I was so scared I wouldn’t like anything I heard that I often waited two days before I had the courage to listen. That said, things went incredibly smoothly, there were no technical problems and the parts were recorded rather quickly. Gregg Bissonette for example recorded his 8 songs in one single day!

Did you give the artists a blueprint of what you wanted or where they allowed to throw in a little of their own ideas?

Every single part was carefully mapped in the preproduction demos and I had charts for each instrument, but I left them some freedom, and they often added their own ideas and styles to the mix.

There’s some epic numbers on the album i.e. Darwin’s Tears, The Divine Comedy and The Secret Of DNA trilogy suite, is it easier to write a more complex number than a shorter one?

The more complex the music, the easier it is to write. Intellectual games and large scale structures are just a matter of sitting there like an architect and draw at the table. It is immensely more difficult to write e 3 minute timeless masterpiece with 3 chords. That is the real challenge, because it comes from instinct, which is much more powerful than logic.

What led to the cover of David Bowie’s “Loving The Alien”? It fits the album perfectly.

Yes it turned out real nice, I am very proud of that one. Well, I’ve loved that song since 1984, and the lyrics inspired a great deal of my own story, so I thought it was the perfect choice. That is another little rule I made: each season will have two covers, but they have to be chosen to fit the story. I didn’t write the story around the covers, it’s the other way around. It’s quite a challenge, but that’s how I like to have fun.

How did the actual recording take place your end? Do you have a home studio? Or did you do demos at home then record the proper tracks in a studio elsewhere?

Yes I have a very simple keyboard oriented preproduction studio called The Planet of Freedom Studio. All demos were recorded here, as well as final keyboard tracks, acoustic grand piano, clarinets, saxes, my vocals and all spoken voices. The special guests recorded in their own studios around the world. I then assembled everything here, but the final mix was done in England by the magic of Simon Hanahrt of Marillion and Asia fame.

Was the album recorded in running order?

Not at all. First I did all the demos, and kept all my vocals and keyboards. Then we recorded all lead vocals over the demos. The last thing were drums, bass and guitars.

Did any real nightmares take place during the albums creation?

Yes, I got screwed by a graphic artist and lost $6000… I’d rather not talk about it too much though. Thank God Carl-André Beckston saved the day with some spectacular work.

I believe a mini film for “Darwin’s Tears” is in production, when is the end product likely to be relased?

We just shot the video this weekend, and it looks awesome. It is 9 min long, and will be in a 1920s German Expressionist style, black and white and very, very creepy. It should be ready this fall if all goes well!

What other plans do you have in the pipeline for this album?

Promotion, merchandising, maybe an album release party and showcase still to be organized with some of the special guests. Then it’s on the second album which… will not be Season 2. You’ll have to wait a bit to understand this one! But it all ties up to the story.

Ok, name your top 5 favourite artists and your favourite albums…. And why?

David Bowie – any album (but let’s pick Let’s Dance). My mentor in all things, there is no one above him

The Rockets – Galactica. Obscure space rock French band that sold millions in Italy. The masters of sci fi shows and space rock.

ELP – Brain Salad Surgery. You can’t do more than that with keys no matter how hard anyone’s tried.

Yes – 90125. A production and songwriting masterpiece

Journey – Raised on Radio. Wow!

If you could take only 3 songs to a desert island what would they be?

Duran Duran – Come Undone

David Bowie – When the Wind Blows

Yes – Leave It

Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Thanks for the support! I hope you’ll like the album, it was a real labour of love 🙂

Many thanks for your time. 

Thanks you!

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FEAR FACTORY – THE INDUSTRIALIST

Out now on AFM Records

Fear Factory, perhaps not what you normally would expect to see at virtuosity one but dig behind the industrial elements and focus on the musicianship and you’ll hear a band with more to offer than may initially meet the eye (or ear).  Certainly more than I gave them the time of day for first time round in the 1990’s.

The band are now often considered founding fathers of elements heard frequently in modern extreme metal today – namely the combination between brutal and melodic vocals (if anyone can actually describe Burton C Bell’s vocals as melodic), not to mention the use of intricate syncopated bass drum and guitar patterns which is what I always remember about the band from their initial mid 90’s rise to prominence.

Dino Cazares monolithic guitar riffing is as intense as ever in 2012.  The guy has one of the tightest picking hand rhythm techniques out there and is displayed here over a number of brain crushing tracks, especially ‘Recharger’, ‘New Messiah’, ‘God Eater’ (8 string guitar) and ‘Difference Engine’ being the pick of the bunch.

Granted each track might be difficult to discern from each other on initial plays, but further plays reveal more character to each.

Not for the faint of heart, ‘The Industrialist’ is a demanding listen but when in the right mood is a surprising success.

This hardened cynic admits he is re-evaluating his initial assessment of the band based on this album and may well have to go and checkout the back catalogue with newly grown more appreciative ears.

Rating – 85%

MILLION DOLLAR RELOAD – A SINNER’S SAINT

Released 29 June 2012 on Frontiers

Million Dollar Reload is a band from Belfast. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear Belfast is an L.A. suburb. They are a bit of a departure from Frontiers’ usual AOR/Prog minded releases,

A throwback to the heady days of the late 80s and early 90s, MDR deliver a sleazy brand of rock that’s reminiscent of such illustrious forebears as Junkyard, Sleeze Beez or GnR. With a sniff of AC/DC thrown in for good measure.

It would be easy to draw parallels with the burgeoning Swedish glam scene, but it would also be wrong. Whereas the Swedish crowd seems more concerned with style over substance, MDR capture the defiant sneer and in your face attitude of the best bands of the era. They’re also hard rock rather than sleazy punk, which is always a bonus. And they even have a more than competent guitar duo to boot!

Songs like “Blow Me Away”, “Wicked” or “Headrush” all rock like mofos. More importantly, there’s really no weak spots on the album. They even pull off a quite respectable ballad by way of “Broken”.

This album will take you back to the glory days of Headbanger’s Ball, videoclips with nubile ladies cavorting on cars and barechested singers belting it out in B/W slo-mo in the pouring rain.

Bring out the Jack, hard rock is back!

Rating – 89%
Review by Sancho

DOCKER’S GUILD – THE MYSTIC TECHNOCRACY (SEASON 1: THE AGE OF IGNORANCE)

Released 15 June 2012 on Lion Music

Now here we have a bit of a treat for all lovers of progressive rock.  Written and led by the keyboard dazzle of Douglas Docker, the cunningly named Docker’s Guild sees a whole host of first class musicians involved in this, the first part of a series of albums.  How do the following grab you? Vocalists John Payne (Asia), Goran Edman (ex Malmsteen, Karmakanic), Tony Mills (TNT) and Amanda Somerville (Avantasia, Epica),  guitarists Guthrie Govan (Asia) and Jeff Watson (Night Ranger), bassist Tony Franklin (Blue Murder) and drummers Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth / Joe Satriani) and Magnus Jacobson (Miss Behavior). Not bad eh and fortunately the album sees good use of all amongst captivating compositions that have depth and soul.

The sound of The Mystic Technocracy results from the mixture of several music styles. Progressive rock is the main driving force with reference points in sound being Yes, ELP, Dream Theater and Genesis.  Whilst the songwriting and vocal arrangements have an air of more traditional melodic rock and AOR acts, mostly Asia and Journey about them.

Couple this with more subtle and unusual influences from the likes of David Bowie (including a great cover of “Loving The Alien”) and Jean-Michel Jarre and you will start to see how this is a big sounding record.

The Mystic Technocracy is perhaps, to be expected, a concept album (or first part of). It is the fictional outcome of a very simple observation: for 4000 years man has tortured, murdered, waged warfare and committed genocide in the name of the same God worshiped by Christians, Jews and Muslims, the three monotheistic religions. It is not a story against religion, but it is a story about the madness of man when he falls under the influence of fanatical dogmatic faith. This religious premise has then been plugged into a science-fiction universe, in which religion was created by a silicon-based life form, the Mystic Technocracy, in order to control, manipulate and eventually destroy humanity.

Song wise the album contains complex multi-section suites, more straightforward rock songs or ballads, as well as more unusual instrumental or groove-oriented tracks.

Highlights are pretty much all over, and whilst it make take a few spins to fully take stock of all on offer there are many moments of instant gratification such as the driving rock of the title track “The Mystic Technocracy” home to chugging riffs, parping keyboards and big vocals.  The 8 minute epic “Darwin’s Tears” showcases some of the more obscure influences mentioned but really works being a very compelling composition.  “Judeo Christian Cosmogony” and the 11 minute 3 part-er “The Secret Of DNA” have everything plus the kitchen sink in them but are no worse off for it.  Overall its compelling stuff with great performances from all involved.

Negatives? Not many, perhaps the guitars sound a little digitised being devoid of midrange but in a way this helps create a more “space age” quality to the music and is a small gripe.

Sonically the album is big, perhaps to be expected where keyboards (and variants of) make up a big part of the sonic landscape but its well mixed by Simon Hanhart (producer of Asia, Marillion and Arena) and mastered by Mike Lind (Dio, Talisman, Candlemass etc) so no complaints here either.  The artwork inlay also promises to be a lush affair designed by the excellent Carl-Andre Beckston (aka monowasp).

Fans of any of the classic big prog names, or indeed newer variants ala Ayreon etc are urged to check this album out when released.  A work of art is here with the emphasis firmly on songs and it promises to be a superb journey on future releases.

Rating – 94%

CIRCUS MAXIMUS – NINE

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Out now on Frontiers

Third strike from progressive metallers Circus Maximus. Five years since their sophomore effort “Isolate” the band have toured extensively and honed their song craft for “Nine” is the bands best work to date. 

Possessing all the positive elements of the genre; Circus Maximus boast superb musicianship within captivating songs.   Vocalist Michael Eriksen is a fine singer whilst guitarist Mats Haugen peels off powerful riffs and fluid solos with considerable ease.  Backing this up is a rock tight rhythm unit of Truls Haugen (drums) and Glen Cato Møllen  (bass) all topped off with lush keyboard orchestrations from Lasse Finbråten.

Highlights are plentiful but the ten minute opening gambit “Architect of Fortune” and the pounding assault of “Used” are the pick of the bunch to these ears.  Elsewhere it’s all good stuff and come the end of year I’d be surprised if this isn’t being considered in the top 5 of 2012’s prog metal releases.

Overall very good stuff and worthy of your hard earned money.

Rating – 90%

ASIA – XXX

Released 29 June 2012 on Frontiers

Asia’s reunion seems to have rejunevated the franchise. On this, their thirtieth anniversary album, the band sound remarkably fresh and vibrant.

The typical poppy take on prog (e.g. “I Know How You Feel”) that characterised their multi-million selling debut has remained a constant throughout those thirty years. Production isn’t quite as bombastic but they manage to avoid the 21st century’s bargain basement cottage industry sound that plagues the genre since the demise of big recording budgets.

No qualms on the songwriting front either. Tracks like “Bury Me In Willow”, “Faithful” or “Face On The Bridge” can stand proud alongside anything in Asia’s extensive catalogue.

Instrumentally, the band delivers, but Steve Howe will never be among my favourite guitarists.

Asia celebrate their 30th anniversary with a fine album that consolidates their position as one of prog’s true super groups. Nice.

Rating – 85%
Review Sancho

JORN – BRING HEAVY ROCK TO THE LAND

Out now on Frontiers

By now, a new Jorn release usually doesn’t hold much surprise. Jorn’s Coverdale cum Dio vocal stylings, underpinned by solid heavy rock, are dependable and solid, but sometimes let down by pedestrian songwriting.

On this new album the songwriting issue seems to have been tackled. There’s more attention to melody and less emphasis on downtuned plodding riffing. Even epic tunes like “A Thousand Cuts” manage to hold the listener’s attention for the duration, especially as they’re balanced by more uptempo fare such as “Chains Around You” or “Ride To The Guns”. Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like The Wind” is a bit superfluous, even if Jorn’s rendition steers closer to Saxon’s cover of the tune than it does the original.

Surprises? Hardly. Dio, Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake are the trusted ingredients in the mix. This time around, there seems to be more inspiration added in than on previous albums though.

Rating – 87%
Review by Sancho

MALICE – NEW BREED OF GODZ

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Out now on SPV/Steamhammer

Malice never made the big time (You’ve obviously never seen the 1988 Fred Savage film Vice Versa – Educated Editor). Even if their Judas Priest meets Ratt hybrid form of metal was quite enjoyable on both of their albums. Like so many of their contemporaries they’re back. And like so many, they now have the ubiquitous James Rivera on vocals. Unfortunately in the process Malice have lost a lot of their own identity.

What’s left is pretty generic US Metal with a very strong Priest influence. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were listening to outtakes of the Painkiller sessions. Or Helstar, for that matter.

Rivera isn’t a bad singer, but he is a one trick pony. And the trick gets old after a couple of tracks.

What’s left is good enough heavy metal. The musicianship is beyond reproach and there are plenty of decent songs. But I can’t help thinking it could have been so much better…

Rating – 77%
Review by Sancho