ProgSphere recently got a chance to talk with seminal Uzbekistani band From.Uz about a whole lot of stuff. They have a new album in the works and due to be released soon, so read on for info about it and plenty more!
Dan: Hello Fromuz, thanks very much for agreeing to this interview. Would you guys mind introducing yourselves?
From.uz: At present From.uz is Vitaly Popeloff (guitars), Albert Khalmurzaev (bass), Ali Izmailov (drums) and Igor Elizov (keyboards), All participants of group live and work in Tashkent (Uzbekistan).
Dan: We would like to ask you a series of questions about the creation process of each album, starting with 2007’s Audio Diplomacy. Could you tell us how this album formed, how the music was written, specific influences for it, etc? I would probably say this is the jazziest of the three albums that have been released so far.
From.uz: Fromuz gave a number of concerts in 2005 and material recorded at these performances became the basis for the first album. The material was created, arranged and rehearsed from August 2004 – April 2005. “Audio Diplomacy” should be considered as the first album of Fromuz as compositions were not recorded in studio before the concerts. This album set the tone, mood and style of the group which critics named prog-fusion. For sure it was affected with the musical predilections of participants to the outstanding representatives of genres – King Crimson, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa.
After recording the concerts the work proceeded in the studio – editing, mixing and mastering the video. This original material was sold regionally under the title “Playing the Imitation”, but after signing our contract with 10T Records, it was renamed and began to be referred to as “Audio Diplomacy”.
Dan: I’m just curious, but why was the decision made to take nearly eleven minutes of material out of the studio version that had originally been recorded in the live album? Also, would you guys mind explaining what Playing the Imitation is for those who aren’t sure?
From.uz: “Audio Diplomacy” is the double edition – CD+DVD. The material is identical except for two pieces of the concert which are on DVD but are not present on the CD. Is the question on these 11 minutes? Time did not allow them to be included on the CD. These two items are concert like absolutely, solo, intended as show, in our opinion. That is solo of Badirov on drums and percussion and solo of Popeloff on MIDI guitar. All tracks of this album are recorded at concerts and a studio recording doesn’t exist.
And about confidence, the ancient said – challenge and call in question! That is the engine of knowledge. If you have already stopped and feel assured – probably you move backward.
Dan: Overlook came next in 2008. Overlook is probably more experimental musically, with much longer songs in general than on Audio Diplomacy. Could you tell us about the writing process for this one, and perhaps why the average song lengths increased?
From.uz: “Overlook” was planned as a conceptual album; work on the album took a lot of time and was fruitful and interesting. Work proceeded from April 2007 till January 2008. Vladimir Badirov recorded the rhythm section in studio “IOSIS” in summer 2007. Vitaly Popeloff recorded the parts of guitars in his home studio. In the studio of the Youth Theater, bass was recorded by Andrew Mara-Novik and keyboards by Alber Khalmurzaev. All tracks were sent to America to 10T Records studio to the sound producer Jeff Hodges who worked on mixing. Mastering was done by Brad Blackwood. Finally the disc was released in October 2008 and was announced as the best album of 2008 in category the best independent album. There was no any special idea to increase the duration of the compositions. Probably it was a desire to get a deeper understanding of those musical themes which occurred to be the concept of the album. But the idea to create something full-scale exists. Thick as a Brick, we like it a lot.
Dan: Seventh Story is definitely the most varied album by this already incredibly eclectic band, with sections that resemble prog metal (Taken), sections that resemble jazz fusion (Influence of Time) and even sections that resemble Rush(Parallels). Not only the music, but the song lengths reflect this eclecticism. This album contains both the longest songs Fromuz has ever done as well as the shortest. Same question for this album, why was this album made the way it was. Also, the album included vocals for the first time. Why was this done? (Not that I’m complaining!)
From.uz: “Seveth Story” was conceived as a conceptual album, made in a very creative atmosphere. Each second of the musical composition of the album contains part of the musician’s soul. If the music is interesting to the audience that just lights up the fire and our creativity heats up. The more interest we get, the more we want to create. That’s how the interaction between musician and audience builds up. That is the way show business exists. “Seventh Story” we dedicated to Frank Zappa, honoring the great composer and musician, whose heritage is invaluable.
On coincidence of circumstances before the beginning of work on the “Seventh Story” album the structure of participants Fromuz changed. Badirov and Mara-Novik were replaced by Ali Izmailov and Surat Kasimov. Keyboard player Igor Elizov also joined the group. As well as the previous album, “Seventh Story” was born as a conceptual project. The idea was that this material should be played and performed live sound only, and only after that the studio variant work should start. That’s the way it all happened. The dramatized premier of the “Seventh Story” took place on a stage of Youth Theater involving the participation of actors of theater in September 2008. For two days all the music material was recorded in tracks and on video for the subsequent edition and installation afterwards. This project will be published in DVD format in autumn 2010, named “Inside Seventh Story”.
We started the studio version work process after that. Technology was the same – recording of the rhythm section, then guitars, bass, keyboards and vocals.
We worked in 3 studios – IOSIS, G. Bronov’s studios and studio of Youth Theater. Right after recording the tracks were brought to Panterra studio, where they were mixed by Validjon Sadikov and Shukhrat Tursunov. As for the vocal part – for the deep understanding of our music idea we planned to direct the audience in the right way. The music is an illusory thing and picks up different associations. And we would like to immerse the audience in the feelings and spaces which we thought of while creating the “Seventh Story” music. Texts were written by Vitaly’s son, Evgeniy Popeloff, a well known musician, Termin Vox project leader.
Dan: Your website had been saying since 2008 that Seventh Story would probably be released in 2009, yet it was delayed for quite a while. Why was this? I would imagine it might have had something to do with the economic downturn.
From.uz: The album was released in 2010, instead of 2009 for technical reasons. It was necessary to finish all – from the material up to the design and calligraphy. It is pleasant to us, when all is done well thought-out.
Dan: One of our contributors noticed that the song Other Side of the Water from Overlook has a section that resembles a section of Dogs by Pink Floyd. Was this intentional?
From.uz: We have a special attitude toward Pink Floyd, and we are not the only one, for sure! There is no reason to direct imitation, but it is very difficult to avoid analogies, especially willing to create a musical picture of melancholy and Utopia. Probably Pink Floyd drained to bottom the issue, plus it was a sort of our tribute to these MONSTERS. If one shall have a look to Ken Westphal’s illustration to this composition – it all becomes clear!
Dan: It wouldn’t be unusual for Fromuz to do this, however, as you guys also did stuff like this with YYZ in Parallels, and I hear Dream Theater pretty clearly in Taken. Not to mention that section of In-A-Gadda-De-Vida that’s included in one of the tracks of Audio Diplomacy that I can’t recall the name of at the moment. Can you think of some more moments where musical homages have been included in Fromuz’s tracks?
From.uz: As to Rush, DT or somebody other – these are simple hits only. The same school, style, patterns, so to speak. There is a Flemish school of painting, for instance, it is possible to distinguish easily those who professed. YYZ we had to listen to captiously already after the stated comparisons (unfortunately, possibly).
Dan: Can you tell us something about the album art on each album? They all seem to have a common theme of jumbled images, which in my eyes represent the eclectic music Fromuz creates. Am I close? Or do you guys just get someone to paint cool pictures and then use those?
From.uz: Fortunately we have got acquainted with a very talented artist and designer Ken Westphal. The “Audio Diplomacy” promo has got to Ken and Ken has stated the desire to work together with us. All the albums up to now are illustrated by Ken. We send the working material and Ken makes it all up. We analyzed sketches which we receive and after long, laborious and very interesting work we come to result which is interesting to all of us. As a matter of fact Ken is a member of From.uz. We like very much the worlds Ken creates. You may examine the illustration Ken created and find something new over and over again. We are very glad to cooperate with Ken.
Dan: This eclectic music must have a wide range of influences and inspiration. Would you guys mind enlightening us as to some of the influences you haven’t mentioned already?
From.uz: Each of FromUz musicians has his own world and understanding of. Someone likes to read, someone likes to watch movies, other one sweats his guts out rehearsing, we come on rehearsal overflown by emotions, opinions, supervision, and it moves us forward. It is interesting for us to work together, which is most important, to our opinion.
Dan: We’ve read in previous interviews you guys have done that members of Fromuz have made music in the past. Feel free to tell us about some of that stuff, but what we’d really like to hear about is music the band members are currently creating outside of Fromuz in the present, or plan to in the future. Do any Fromuz band members have side projects or side bands?
From.uz: Each of the From.uz members has his own work. Vitaly – a session guitarist, works with leading musicians of Asia. Albert – an actor of theater and cinema, writes music for stage performances and films. Igor – a composer and arranger, works with stars of the Uzbek stage. Ali Izmailov is a senior lecturer of the conservatory, a teacher of the percussion curriculum. Tens its students – winners and students of the international competitions.
Three days a week From.uz members play in a Tashkent club.Cover versions of blues, rock and pop music hits of the last century are played. That is Creedence (Clearwater Revival) up to Yes, George Benson up to Led Zeppelin. And all the remaining time we spend working on From.uz projects.
Dan: We’ve also read that Fromuz plans to release another studio album this year called Quartus Artifactus. I might have been mislead, however. Would you care to enlighten us and explain something about this upcoming “artifact”?
From.uz: “Quartus Artifactus” is planned to be an acoustic album where our compositions will be presented in acoustic form. The threefold edition 2CD+DVD is planned. This project has been played and recorded on 23.06.2009 at the Tashkent theater Ilkhom. Then we edited and mixed the material. The video version of the concert work comes to an end now. Music has begun to sound absolutely different! The stylistics withdrawal has dictated thorough changes in compositions. We think it will be a very interesting album! There are plans to release the album in the beginning of 2011.
Dan: We also hear there’s a live album and/or DVD in the works. Would you guys mind explaining about this one?
From.uz: From.uz gave a big two-hour concert (January, 2010) in new structure (newest lineup) – Albert Khalmurzaev played bass guitar. There was a video record and track record the further edition, but alas, the audio-material has been lost owing to disrepair of the wehicle. So now we shall release the official DVD (record or live version) limited edition, probably for our region only.
Dan: You guys seem to enjoy making slight changes to the band’s name. Why is this exactly? I believe it has gone from “The Fromuz” to “Fromuz” to what it is now, “From.uz”.
From.uz: All changes in the name is a consequence of structure changes. No re-branding is expected. That will do!
Dan: When I play Fromuz for friends who don’t usually listen to this type of music, I usually describe it as “weird Uzbekistani jazz metal” so I can laugh at the horrified look that appears on their faces. What do you guys think I should describe Fromuz as? The real question here is, what do you guys consider the music of Fromuz to be?
From.uz: In our opinion that is absolutely useless idea to hang out labels.
Unequivocally – our music roots are in art and prog rock. We grew and were brought up on this music. Certainly it is necessary to tell about influence of classical music and jazz on From.uz musicians. Probably from here the mix of genres comes, the fusion manner. But we are not going to rank ourselves to this or that direction anyway. This is a matter for musical critics! We are planning to do music which will be interesting to us. And the audience shall judge on the quality of it.
Dan: Do you guys seeing Uzbekistan and other nearby countries in Central Asia hosting a vibrant prog rock/jazz scene in the near future? Naturally there aren’t many bands like Fromuz at the moment, but with your popularity, do you think you could pave the way for more bands and artists in this sub-genre?
From.uz: It would be very much desirable to hope, that we can draw the world rock music attention to our region. We have many interesting rock groups. There are festivals where Uzbek musicians take part. Also, there are some international positioned festivals. Among the Uzbek musicians are invited as well. And we shall try to do our best the interest to Central Asia region rock has been proved and inextinguishable!
Dan: I saw on your Facebook page that Fromuz is thinking of getting into some prog festivals around the world. In fact, I even posted about American jazz/prog festivals around NYC. Anyway, I think we’d like to know how this is going. Also, how’s touring in general for Fromuz?
From.uz: Unfortunately the world economic crisis has broken our festival plans – we had some offers from the western festivals, which could not transport us due to financial reasons (the way from Asia to America is too expensive). For a break in the economic crisis in the near future we hope! It is time to go and acquaint public with our music! It would be desirable to plan festivals and tours, but there is no manager yet who would run tour business.
Dan: Thank you again for agreeing to do this interview. I think I’m out of questions, so feel free to add anything you like.
From.uz: We’d like to add – God save all the good people! Let the Muse bless you! Listen to good music! Good luck!
Dan: Just one more completely nonserious question – does Fromuz like dogs?
From.uz: Dogs – that is excellent, as idea! They have a tail and a wet nose! And they are more frank than people. Alas…