"Take a break, put in your earbuds and turn your phone off for an hour. It’s good for the soul."
Although they formed in 2012 and they’ve released two albums since then, it was their signing with the - mighty in the prog field - Inside Out that spread the word about this band to a broader audience. Now, they release their third album called "Vier" - the first for their new label - and their main composer and guitarist Johannes Luley talked to us about it. And his answers are as interesting as the music he writes...
Hello, Johannes. Thanks for your time and congratulate for "Vier".
Thank you Chris, for inviting me. I am happy to be talking to you.
First of all, I’d like you to say a few things as an introduction to Perfect Beings, for people that may not have heard of you and people that may only know a few things about you...
Perfect Beings was founded in Los Angeles 2012, when I met our singer Ryan Hurtgen. He was a client at my recording studio (and label) my sonic temple. We hit it off right away and I was very impressed with his songwriting skills, and also his voice. So we put together a band and released two albums on my sonic temple. They were both really well received.
After the release of our second album “II”, we lost our rhythm section. We decided to make lemonade out of lemons and move ahead to record “Vier” as a three piece. To that purpose, we hired Minneapolis transplant Ben Levin to play the drums. Ben didn’t stick around, so after the album was recorded we started looking again, and found Sean Reinert (formerly of Cynic) who was recommended to us by our old bassist, Chris Tristram. They knew each other from playing together in Aeon Spoke. So that brings us to today. Recently, we also added two new players: Jason Lobell on bass and Brett McDonald on sax and flute.
I heard about the band when you signed with Inside Out as it’s the most famous (and in my opinion best) label for progressive rock music. How did you end up signing with them? Are you familiar with its work and artists? How much do you think they can help you expand your audience?
We’ve had contact with them over the past few years. Thomas Waber of InsideOut had been interested in working with us before, but the timing didn’t work out, because he got in touch just after the release of our second album. When “Vier” was almost finished, I sent it to Thomas and he loved it. A few months later we had our contract in hand. We are hopeful that joining forces with InsideOut will allow us to introduce our music to a much larger audience. How much, only time will tell.
"We are representing a niche in a niche"
In general, how helpful is a label for artists in our day and age, especially for a band like you that plays challenging music for a niche of the music market?
It is very helpful, especially since InsideOut Music now has the muscle of Sony behind them. So clearly, the reach is much greater compared to my little label. Additionally, we are representing a niche in a niche, in that most of the IOM artist roster is heavier than Perfect Beings. So, I think we can cater to an audience that enjoys more of a classic prog style, paired with a modern sound. We also have great crossover potential beyond the prog market.
"In rehearsal, everybody is excited about how we sound with Sean and we can’t wait to bring this opus to the stage"
Also, recruiting Sean Reinert caught the attention of many prog fans, as he’s well known for his work with bands like Cynic etc. As he doesn’t play on the album what do you think he can bring to the table for Perfect Beings? Which part of his playing do you like the most?
Sean was thrilled to join us. I think we offer him a fresh style, different from the bands he’s been involved with in the past. Of course, he would have played on the album, but when we connected, the drums were already recorded. We are really looking forward to creating new music with Sean, and to hopefully many more records to come. What instantly stuck out to me about his playing was his accuracy and how nice his kit sounded. He and Jason are holding this ship together, which is half the battle. His interpretation of “Vier” is different from Ben’s. In rehearsal, everybody is excited about how we sound with Sean and we can’t wait to bring this opus to the stage.
Now, I really enjoy “Vier”. The quality is undeniable and the music is fresh and different. Did you have a specific vision when you started writing music or the flow of the creative process led you to the final product?
Thank you Chris! We set out to record a 4 sided double vinyl album, so that was really the only parameter we gave ourselves. Oh, and also, the four sides would be uninterrupted, which is why we have these 4 longform suites, much in the tradition of “Tales From Topographic Oceans” or Mike Oldfield’s “Incantations”. Not many artists have taken that path since the late '70s. We wanted to put a new spin on this concept. The challenge with this format in particular is to me, that I never want the listener to feel bored.
We started with a few piano based demos of Ryan’s. I usually program the drum parts, so we can get an idea of what it might sound like. Then we start building on those rough drafts. Once the drums are recorded, we continue exploring further instrumentation. With this record, we split up the writing responsibilities by assigning one longform composition to each of the three members (at the time we were three). The fourth one was to be conceptualized with all of us involved. So Ryan drafted the framework for “Guedra”, I was in charge of “The Golden Arc”, and Jesse did “Vibrational”. Once the basic layout was in place, we did let the creative process lead us.
"Perfect Beings strive to make music that will still sound relevant in 30 or 40 years"
I know it’s a tricky question, but how would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard you? Prog is a fitting title, but I’m not sure that it means something specific anymore.
I so agree with that. Why do we need these genres in the first place? Perfect Beings strive to make music that will still sound relevant in 30 or 40 years. I would say it is immersive music that requires a certain attention span. “Vier” poses a challenge to people living in the modern day 24/7 society. Always on, always connected. Take a break, put in your earbuds and turn your phone off for an hour. It’s good for the soul.
"King Crimson is a modern day orchestra"
To make it easier (or maybe more difficult) which three bands would you put next to Perfect Beings to draw parallels with?
I am currently very inspired by John McLaughlin. Of course, I always have been, but I recently saw him on the Mahavishnu farewell tour. He is 75 years old and kicking some serious ass. It reminded me, how much of an inspiration he has been throughout my career. One of the first albums I heard him on was “Jack Johnson” by Miles Davis, when I was maybe 10 or 11.
The tendency to take sharp left turns stems from my love for John Zorn and Mr. Bungle. We don’t do it at the same pace as those guys who have made it an artform, but every once in a while there are these fairly extreme turns in Perfect Biengs’ music.
Seeing King Crimson last summer was also very refreshing. Ryan, Jesse and I went together and were all equally blown away. I admire them as a modern day orchestra. And they have been going for quite a while. Very inspirational.
"We have faith in the evolution of the listener"
I think one of the most important factors for this kind of music is to find a balance between challenging and enjoyable. Do you consider it too? Do you think some listeners may find your music a bit more challenging than they can take or you think the audience you address doesn’t care about it?
Oh, of course they care. However, we attempt to make the challenging enjoyable and appear effortless doing so. But I know what you are getting at. In our case it is the vocal that helps people connect, in case they are a bit challenged by the other sections. That said, I think our audience can handle it. We have faith in the evolution of the listener. I mean, this isn’t pop radio, right?
I may be wrong, but I sense that each of the four suites/compositions of the album has a “basic character”, may I say. “Guerda” is jazzy, “The Golden Arc” is symphonic, “Vibrational” is a bit psychedelic and “Annunaki” is a bit of mix of the aforementioned, maybe a bit more heavy. Would you agree with me? Do you see any character in them?
Yes. Each suite has its own flavor or personality. Your descriptions match, but you could also say “Guedra” is glam, “The Golden Arc” has world music influences, “Vibrational” is electronic and “Anunnaki” folky. “Vier” is a lot of things. Generally, I love the heavier parts, but also the jazzier sections. It’s a trip!
You have four big compositions and eighteen individual tracks for them. How would you prefer someone to approach “Vier”, as a four-track album or as an eighteen-track album and why? What difference do you think it makes?
“Vier” is German (and also Dutch) for “four”, so the album is meant to be viewed and listened to as a collection of four uninterrupted suites. We regret that we had to break it down for downloads. The CD is uninterrupted and so is the vinyl, except for when you flip the album. This is how we prefer you to listen to the album, because that’s how it was meant to be.
"Finding comfort in "not knowing" and embracing uncertainty is the key to overcoming fear"
Also, I’d like to have some explanation about the lyrics. Are there specific lyrical themes in each suite and what do they deal with? How important are lyrics for your music?
Super important! Everything revolves around the voice and the lyrics. The music is fueled by them. The lyrics on “Vier” are based in self-reflection in our own struggles and triumphs living in the modern world. The four suites have individual stories, but they are also interweaving and connected with each other. Each one has a thesis of finding a "secret" or finding a "key" to unlock some new knowledge or answer to life, but the realization is that there are no definite answers and answers are only leading to more questions. Finding comfort in "not knowing" and embracing uncertainty is the key to overcoming fear. This album is about an awareness of humans becoming fused with machines and technology. No longer living in our circadian rhythm. A permanent flow of information and how that feeds our desires. Robotic sex, global communication and instant access to the network at anytime.
Enter the center is a yogic concept. With all of the chaos of information swirling around us at all times, the awareness that we are one, we are powerful, blissful if we rest in our center. And so we hear this in the polyrhythmic musical structures as if they are elements moving the grand design of everything. As if we've pulled back the curtain on the great machine and we can see all the nuts and bolts working. Ha ha ha... getting philosophical now.
Which were your favorite albums of 2017?
Honestly, I haven’t listened to any new music. I am usually too busy with either my family, my studio or my band to listen to new stuff.
So, what’s the future holding for Perfect Beings?
Well, we are excited to promote “Vier” and to take it to the live stage. We got Rosfest coming up in May. There will be local shows in Los Angeles and we are talking to booking agents for touring prospects. Beyond that, we will record many more albums and of course conquer the world.
Thank you for your time and wishing all the best!
Thank you Chris, for the interview. I enjoyed your questions very much. Please everybody share the news about our album. You can buy it here.
Btw, the other two albums of Perfect Beings are available through our website perfectbeingsband.com