Interview: THE VICIOUS HEAD SOCIETY’s Graham Keane… Posted: 20/03/2017 by John O'Brien
THE VICIOUS HEAD SOCIETY is the brainchild of Irish guitar virtuoso Graham Keane.
His incredible debut album “Abject Tomorrow” is sure to please the ears of all progressive metal fans and those with a taste for all things guitar. The album features guests such as keyboardist Derek Sherinian (DREAM THEATER, ALICE COOPER, BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION, YNGWIE MALMSTEEN +more), fellow Irishman and bass player Pat Byrne (HEDFUZY), and drum machine Kevin Talley (GROT, DYING FETUS, CHIMAIRA, MISERY INDEX + loads more).
So the Irish Metal Archive thought it would be worthwhile to get some insider info on the album “Abject Tomorrow”, and the man Graham Keane himself, ahead of the official release on the 24th March 2017.
Why don’t we do the obvious and go back to the beginning. Can you give us some background on the project? How and when it all really started?
- “Initially it started when I was in music school. I was jamming with some like minded friends, mainly just for fun…kinda tongue in cheek prog stuff. We were just experimenting with material we were learning in classes and improvising etc. When I returned home, I had a lot of ideas and decided to start documenting them. I was teaching a lot of guitar and writing was mainly just for fun. From there the songs just grew their own legs and everything was actually written very quickly, for instance the song ’11th Hour’ was written in around 15 minutes.
- The concept was initially inspired by sci-fi and some novels I was reading at the time. So in between teaching and being a parent I would sometimes record a few ideas here and there. The songs sorta sat on my hard drive as I thought it would never ever be completed. When my wife fell ill, I was compelled to actually do something with this material. It’s a strange thing, you know on a logical level that someday you will die but somehow we never really process it consciously. My wife made a full recovery but the shock and true realisation that life is passing by made me wake up so to speak.
- While Minnie was going through treatment, I became a nurse and a Mom and Dad rolled into one. During the day when you are looking after everyone life takes on it’s own shape. When I put my head on the pillow at night I would be overcome with fear about what might happen and the only thing that kept me occupied was to pour all of that pent up energy into recording and tweaking the songs. For me then, it really only started in a serious manner during that time (about 4 years ago).”
There were some early tracks and demo versions that appeared online every now and then. I remember your old Myspace and Bebo page (now gone) having quite a few songs between them for an album or EP called “Dystopia”. Was this ever properly seen to fruition, or simply a pre-cursur to “Abject Tomorrow”.
- “Everything that was demoed on those pages is part of the album in one shape or form. Everything was written pretty quickly and I had an outline of how I wanted the story and music to compliment it from the off. I changed the name from “Dystopia” because I happened upon the name quite a lot and wanted something a bit different.
- The song that took the most time was probably ‘Abject Tomorrow’ itself. I kept re-writing parts because I was a little insecure about it being too simple and straight ahead. I think the middle riff was re-written about 50 times. Eventually I decided that not every song on the album needed to be complex and settled on how it is now.”
Did you ever think you would search the Globe looking for musicians such as Derek Sherinian and Kevin Tally to get involved in the project?
- “Absolutely not (haha!!). I was content to just plink around with the songs and never expected to even release it in any serious format. When everything changed, I knew that virtual instruments just wouldn’t cut it anymore and I wanted to realise it to its full potential. I contacted so many musicians about working on it. I contacted Jorn Lande, Arjen Lucassen, James Murphy, Ryo Okomoto, Damian Wilson (who was actually going to sing on it at one point), Jordan Rudess and so many more.”
“Abject Tomorrow” clocks in at just over a whopping 73mins. Were you conscious of the time constraints on a standard CD? Were you ever tempted to go down the classic prog double album road?
- “You know, I didn’t even realise it’s length until I read that! (haha!!). I didn’t pay any attention to the length at all. I just wrote the songs as they came to me. I didn’t even think I would release it, I just enjoyed the thrill of the chase for the next cool riff. melody or chord progression. There was such a high off discovering a new part that worked etc. I had enough material to make it even longer so it could very well have been a double album but I think 73 mins of music is probably more than enough!”
You recently joined Pat Byrne on stage for first live outing of his prog rock/metal band HEDFUZY in Limerick. Have you any plans to do the same with TVHS?
“I would love to but there’s a lot of hurdles to get over. Wilmer lives in Holland, Klemen is Slovakian etc. So co-ordinating this would take a lot of effort and funding. It’s not impossible so you never know and if the reception is good to the album and if a few people like it, it might very well happen.”
A fairly odd one for you now, but what the hell!
Would you ever consider doing a TVHS & HEDFUZY hybrid band to take both on the road?
“Yeah, why not? I had a lot of fun recording parts for HEDFUZY.
Who knows what possibilities will present themselves?”
Back to the album again! It was obviously a massive undertaking for you, personally? Did you ever think to yourself, “Ahh, feck it” and threaten to pack it all in?
- “You have no idea how many times that happened (haha!!). Writing it was fairly easy, recording it initially with programmed midi drums was a nightmare that I never ever want to relive. So many times I wondered why I was doing it at all. I didn’t think anyone would ever want to hear it. I had no idea if it was good I just knew that I liked some of the ideas. The search for a singer was soul destroying too. My wife was always there encouraging me to keep going. It was that belief that carried it to completion.”
OK! Finally. And sorry if this is too much…
But my nerd/OCD compels me to ask!
With it being a concept album, there is an awful lot to process. So I was hoping you would be able to give the Archive and folks reading a track-by-track breakdown, to give some insight into the themes and what’s going, as well as which players/guests were involved on each track.
(Vocals – Wilmer Waarbroek, Keys – Nahuel Ramos, Drums – Klemen Markelj, Bass- Pat Byrne)
- “This song is basically setting the scene for a man’s awakening in a not so distant future in which emotions are prohibited via biological implants. His implant is beginning to fail and he’s starting to see things differently. He’s unaware of what’s happening but feels drawn to the beauty of it all. As the song progresses there’s a realisation that he is very much alone and that it will not lead to good things. The second half instrumental section was written in a way to demonstrate this.
- I wanted it initially to be a bright song. It has some heavy moments but it’s roots are in classic prog for me. The keyboard riff at the beginning was the first thing written for the album too, although that might seem obvious, it’s often not the case.”
(Vocals – Nathan Pickering. Drums – Kevin Talley)
- “Abject was a tough one to let go. I re-wrote the first riff and the middle riff so many times. I couldn’t stop tinkering with it. It was sort of inspired by ‘Black Hole Sun’ believe it or not. The clean guitar riff that’s a recurring theme throughout the album was the first thing that was written for it. I wanted a sinister sounding melody and it totally fit the bill.
- Lyrically, it’s told from the corporate/controller perspective. Basically stating, this is how the world is now, humanity are cattle and it will never change because of the control grid in place. I love Nathan’s vocal on it, he really nailed it.”
3. ‘Downfall (Voice in the Sky)’…
(Vocals – Wilmer Waarbroek, Drums – Kevin Talley, Bass – Pat Byrne, Violin – Karen Kelly)
- “In this song our protagonist starts to wonder if the world was always this way. He hears voices telling him of times when things were different, when humans achieved great things artistically and so on. He’s drawn to the voice but at the same time is apprehensive about the consequences. He knows that the glitch in his implant will be detected and his fear drives the inspired voice away (She will fly…etc). He cannot tell if it is real anymore or just a result of what is happening to the implant.
- Musically, it was written quickly. I steered away from a traditional verse/chorus structure and let it flow in a natural way. It was also a very deliberate choice to slow things down a little and create some space. The ending heavy slow section is one of my favourite parts on the album.”
(Vocals – Wilmer Waarbroek, Keys – Nahuel Ramos, Drums – Kevin Talley, Bass – Pat Byrne, Karen Kelly – Violin)
- “In Agenda, the controllers detect the anomaly. This song is somewhat of a continuation of the themes in Abject but has more like a conversation between protagonist/controller. The controllers are trying to reboot his device in order to bring him under control but it’s not working. The second verse is a sort of explanation of why the controllers came to be, humanities inability to control emotion/desire to the point where society was breaking down.
- It was a this point of the album that I started to realise that the story was actually a lot more personal than I realised and it started to mirror my own internal dialogue about creating music. That critical voice that tells you it’s pointless, not good enough against the voice that just wants to create.
- Musically, the riff the beginning represents an alarm. I wanted it to have a big, melodic chorus and I think I got close to that. The instrumental section at the end was a tough one to create. The guitar solo was written first, so I had to try and fit riffs around it that made sense. The ending is just a reprise of the theme after the second chorus but with a classic rock spin on it.”
5. ’11th Hour’…
(Vocals – Wilmer Waarbroek, Drums – Kevin Talley, Bass – Pat Byrne)
- “This song was written very quickly, I think it took about 15 mins to gather all of the ideas. Again, I wanted to create some space after the very note heavy Agenda. It took a while to record because it quite difficult to find the sounds I wanted. I always think of this song as being very important for the narrative.
- Our protagonist decides to go within to find answers. He knows that the controllers are coming to take him for reconditioning and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. At the end he being taken away and is injected with a pain inducing psychedelic which leads in to Psychedelic Torture Trip. I really love the outro to it. Wilmer’s vocal is amazing to me on it.”
6. ‘Psychedelic Torture Trip’…
(Drums – Kevin Talley, Key solos – Derek Sherinian, Bass – Pat Byrne)
- “This was relatively quickly to write too. I was experimenting with a lot of 12 tone composition at the time and that influence rubbed off on this song. I love complex music but I like instrumentals to be short and to the point, especially when they are dissonant like this one is. The thing that was hardest to pin down were the guitar solos. And it was so cool to have Derek Sherinian play on this one.”
7. ‘Gods of the New Age’…
(Vocals – Wilmer Waarbroek, Drums – Kevin Talley, Bass – Pat Byrne)
- “After all of the craziness in PTT, I wanted to have a straight ahead metal song with a big riff. It’s fairly straightforward musically, not too many twists and turns. Lyrically it’s like an argument between protagonist/controller. The controllers are telling him it’s all a delusion, humanity is better the way it is now (very similar to something like 2112) and the protagonist obviously struggles to come to terms with the hopelessness of his situation, unable to understand why they don’t see the potential. The section at the end was something written very early on in the creation of the album but I could never find a use for it until this song came along.”
8. ‘Analogue Spectre’…
(Vocals – Wilmer Waarbroek, Keys – Nahuel Ramos, Drums – Klemen Markelj, Bass – Pat Byrne)
- “Analogue was the last song written. I had a very clear vision for it musically. Again, creating some initial space with the intro. It wasn’t intended to be so long but ideas kept on coming and it continued to grow. The first part sees the protagonist hooked up to a machine for reconditioning. Before he loses his memory, he begins to reflect on his life. The instrumental part that follows represents the exchange of data between his implant and the super computer.
- The mellow section that follows is basically a death scene. He does not survive the procedure but his consciousness escapes into the machine. His message and all that he has seen is broadcast to all humanity. (Ghost in the machine), leaving humans with a choice, to blindly follow or to create their own vision.
- There are a lot of recurring themes in it. The riff from the sycophants, abject, agenda, downfall. There’s even a twist on the lyrics of Abject towards the end too. I’m proud of how this one came together, it took a lot of work to write for all the instruments.”
Interview by John O’Brien